While Mitt Romney fans have a million excuses to explain why their guy can never rise above 25% in the polls, the simplest explanation is the best: for all his competence and decency, the man is simply unreliable, not just as a conservative, but as a Republican. The latest example? In a Christmas Eve interview with the Wall Street Journal Romney refused to rule out imposing a VAT tax on the United States:
What about his reform principles? Mr. Romney talks only in general terms. "Moving to a consumption-based system is something which is very attractive to me philosophically, but I've not been able to sufficiently model it out to jump on board a consumption-based tax. A flat tax, a true flat tax is also attractive to me. What I like—I mean, I like the simplification of a flat tax. I also like removing the distortion in our tax code for certain classes of investment. And the advantage of a flat tax is getting rid of some of those distortions."
Since Mr. Romney mentioned a consumption tax, would he rule out a value-added tax?
He says he doesn't "like the idea" of layering a VAT onto the current income tax system. But he adds that, philosophically speaking, a VAT might work as a replacement for some part of the tax code, "particularly at the corporate level," as Paul Ryan proposed several years ago. What he doesn't do is rule a VAT out.
Dan O'Neil, who is the only major commentator who has picked up on this, wonders aptly, "Since Romney Is Willing To Consider A VAT, Should Conservatives and Libertarians Consider Him?" Good question, and one I think many people would answer in the negative, but only if one of Romney's conservative rivals would be willing to challenge him on it. And, there's the rub. So far, it's been crickets chirping. I realize that Christmas intervened, but surely this is worth some dreaded "negative advertising" over the next 9 days.
It was a Big Issue when Michele Bachmann went overboard on her vaccine battle with Rick Perry. It was a Big Gaffe when Rick Perry couldn't remember the three cabinet departments he wanted to close. It was a Big Deal that Herman Cain could not explain Obama's inexplicable Libyan policy. It's Deal Breaker that Newt Gingrich was paid $1.6M by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (funny that the one Republican who managed to extract some $$ out of those liberal sinecures, is the one person connected to the GSE's whose political career has been hurt).
But, Mitt Romney essentially offers up that he thinks a VAT might be an option in his "data driven" presidency and it's no big deal. Yes, it is. This is a real "spread the wealth around" moment, a window into his approach to governance. Mitt Romney is not going to shrink the size of government, he's going to raise taxes. That's because he lacks the core convictions needed to survive the media/PR onslaught that will accompany even the most penny-ante cuts to the federal budget. It's going to be "read my lips" all over again.
If Romney is indeed the nominee, we are going to need a lot more Tea Party Congressmen - to keep a leash on the president, no matter who he might be.