It’s really difficult to knock someone like Mitt Romney off balance in a public forum. After all, he’s been part of three nationally televised debates where he more than held his own against President Barack Obama.
Try as she might, Democrat Jenny Wilson landed very few body blows against Romney during their one and only debate ahead of November’s midterm elections.
Wilson tried to paint Romney as a political chameleon who will take whatever position he needs at a particular moment, calling him “multiple choice Mitt” several times during the hour-long debate. But, she failed to land that verbal punch on Romney after winding up to take a swing. That moniker pales in comparison to the dis former Vice President Joe Biden hit Romney with during the 2012 presidential campaign when he called him "Mitt malarkey."
During a discussion on the exploding federal deficit, Wilson tried to hit Romney for saying he was a deficit hawk while supporting the federal budget. Romney immediately took the wind out of her sales by correcting her, asking if she meant the Trump tax cuts.
“I haven’t seen a budget in some time, and the way Congress is funding the government through continuing resolutions is wrong,” he said. Romney then quickly pivoted to the Trump tax cuts, saying he would not have cut taxes on higher-income Americans.
“Rich people do not need a tax cut,” he said.
Wilson said she was alarmed by the deficit, which will force the government to make some hard budgetary choices in the future.
“I’m willing to discuss everything, but I won’t balance the budget on the backs of seniors or those who rely on government programs,” she said.
Wilson tried to catch Romney in a contradiction when discussing firearms and gun safety. Romney said he would not favor any new federal laws restricting firearms as individual states could decide what works for them better than a “one size fits all” policy from Washington.
Wilson then read a quote from Romney when he was Governor of Massachusetts when he pushed for a ban on assault weapons.
“That’s ‘multiple choice Mitt’ who says one thing when he ran for governor, another when he ran for president and another when he’s running for Senate,” said Wilson.
Romney fired back saying during both of his presidential runs he also opposed any new federal regulations on firearms.
Despite that, the debate was a mostly collegial affair, with Romney and Wilson agreeing on several issues. At one point, Romney grew tired of referring to his opponent as “Ms. Wilson” and asked if they could drop the formalities. Wilson suggested they call it the “Jenny and Mitt debate.”
When asked about reforming the process for confirming a president’s nominee for the Supreme Court, both agreed that the current way was broken.
Referencing the recent rancor surrounding the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Romney suggested that there should be a deadline for Senators to bring forth objections or allegations against the nominee, while Wilson said the Senate needed to find a better way to work together to reduce partisan fighting.
On immigration, both Wilson and Romney condemned the Trump administration’s policy of separating families at the border. Wilson said Congress should live up to the promise made to so-called “dreamers” who were brought to America illegally as children and allow them to stay and become citizens. Romney said “dreamers” should stay, but they can’t be given priority over others already in line for citizenship.
When the discussion turned to the behavior of President Trump, Wilson said if special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation reveals that Trump committed impeachable offenses, then Congress should take that route.
”I don’t know if he’s committed impeachable offenses, but there’s a lot of smoke around this president,” she said. “We need to get back to a limited presidency. We need to move the country forward, and right now we’re on pause.”
Romney, who famously called Trump a “phony” and a “fraud” during the 2016 presidential campaign said the president has done some things he’s agreed with, while some of his other actions are worthy of scorn.
“I agree with his tax plan, but if he says things I don’t agree with, I’ll let him know. I choose what I say carefully. I don’t want to be a gadfly commenting all the time, but if it’s worth it, I’ll say something. I believe this president is doing a lot of things very helpful for our state,” said Romney.
Debates are always a risky proposition for the frontrunner in a political race. A big gaffe can help your opponent while damaging their own chances. Romney avoided errors on Tuesday, so the debate probably won’t change the trajectory of the race heading into the final weeks.
The most recent UtahPolicy.com survey gives Romney a 26-point lead over Wilson.