So far, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has made little to no effort in Iowa — and he still shows no signs of seeking to win the state in the GOP primaries. But he’s doing his part to help Rep. Michele Bachmann’s chances there. Perhaps in retaliation for Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s tough talk in Iowa about the job costs of Romneycare, the Romney campaign today sent an e-mail blast announcing Perry’s “Social Security problem in Iowa.”
And, in fact, Romney has a point. According to the e-mail, roughly one in five Iowans receives Social Security benefits. “More than 580,000 Iowans benefit from Social Security,” the e-mail states. “In December 2010, there were 584,113 Iowans receiving Social Security benefits. In 2010, Iowa had 3,046,355 citizens.” Iowa might not be the state most receptive to Perry’s hard-hitting, Ponzi-scheme-themed rhetoric about the need to reform Social Security.
But as Perry is factually accurate in his statements about the venerable entitlement program — and as he hasn’t actually advocated abandoning our obligations to seniors — Iowans needn’t rethink Perry as a candidate simply because he has advocated “dismantling Social Security and sending it to the states, calling the program a ‘failure,'” as Romney’s e-mail reminds readers.
The e-mail might even just invite speculation about whether Romney now plans to really enter the Iowa contest, which, as Politico’s Alexander Burns notes, is probably the last thing Romney wants, as Romney probably wouldn’t compare favorably with Perry there. (Consider: Perry consistently leads Romney in the Iowa polls and by a substantial margin. RealClearPolitics’ most recent compilation of poll results shows that Perry has a +6.4 lead in the state.)
Still, this points right back to the problem supporters of the Paul Ryan plan have encountered. In Ryan’s case, it was Medicare reform, in Perry’s, it’s Social Security reform, but, either way, as necessary and vital as such reform might be, nobody wants to hear it, let alone vote for it. But, if the GOP is ever to succeed at convincing the electorate that entitlement reform is nonnegotiable, then Republicans have to have a unified message on the issue — and, in the interest of actually saving and strengthening Social Security, it’d be better if that message veered toward Perry’s approach than toward Romney’s.
In this matter, Romney and Bachmann, even, are missing the chance to unify around Perry’s message about Social Security, which, while seemingly politically inexpedient, has the indisputable advantage of truth and ultimate political expediency — because, as more and more voters come to recognize the imperative need for reform, they will reward politicians who’ve had the courage to speak the truth all along. Uniting around the message wouldn’t bolster Perry — if all three frontrunners had similar positions, it would turn into a non-issue in the debates and would concentrate attacks on Perry’s truly questionable positions. But it would, ultimately, bolster the GOP as it would allow the Republicans to use the primaries as an educational campaign on entitlement reform.
Lastly, just something to consider regarding Romney and Perry: Romney is attacking Perry on Social Security — but Perry is right on Social Security. Perry is attacking Romney on Romneycare — and Romney was wrong on that. Just sayin’.