Making clear that his performance in Wednesday’s debate was no coincidence, Mitt Romney escalated his attacks on Rick Perry’s Social Security stance even further on Thursday.
In an interview with Sean Hannity, Romney all but called Perry unelectable thanks to his comments that the program is a “Ponzi scheme,” a “monstrous lie,” and his book’s suggestions that the program is unconstitutional and should be replaced with a state-level system.
“Social Security is a good thing. We need Social Security,” Romney said. “If we nominate someone who the Democrats could correctly characterize as being opposed to Social Security, we would be obliterated.”
Romney, like many Republicans and even some Democrats, says he is willing to entertain some changes to the program to shore up its finances in the long term. But he made a careful distinction between his position and Perry’s on Hannity, arguing that by writing in his book Fed Up! that Social Security is a “failure” and was forced on the American people, Perry is against the basic idea of the program itself.
Perry, sensing trouble, was quick to defend himself from Romney’s claim that he wants to “abolish” Social Security. “I’d say that’s misinformation,” he said at a campaign stop on Thursday. “We just want to fix it.”
But there were some awkward hiccups. Huffington Post’s Jon Ward repeatedly pressed Perry’s spokesman Ray Sullivan after the debate to answer whether Perry would dissolve Social Security entirely, but couldn’t get a yes or no answer. “The governor’s made his position clear that he wants to fix Social Security,” Sullivan finally said.
Romney’s argument, however, is more than just about Perry’s current position. The heart of the new message is that Perry is damaged goods: nothing he says or does before election day can undo his old quotes or prevent President Obama from blanketing the airwaves with ads featuring them. His path to the nomination lies in convincing Republican voters that when it comes to beating Obama, he’s the only viable option, period.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.