Posted by: Joshua Green on September 9, 2011
At a moment when liberals are growing nervous about President Obama’s commitment to defending entitlement programs, it was strange to hear a ringing defense of Social Security come from a Republican, Mitt Romney, in Wednesday’s debate. This indicates two things: first, protecting Social Security must poll extremely well, even among Republican primary-goers, or Romney would not have been so outspoken in his defense of it (he’s not exactly known for taking stands that could thwart his political ambitions). Second, he thinks he’s found his line of attack against Rick Perry, who reiterated during the debate his belief that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme.”
I think Romney’s on to something. In the spin room afterward, Perry’s problem became clear. On the one hand, he won’t back down from the “Ponzi scheme” claim because that would threaten his image as the forthright Texan who knows exactly what he believes and doesn’t waver. On the other hand, his advisers clearly recognize the danger of Perry’s appearing as though he wants to gut Social Security. Each of them insisted that Perry hadn’t changed his position on Social Security, while also emphasizing that he would not end the program or mess with the benefits of anyone about to retire. Those positions seem hard to reconcile. They’ll be harder still when Perry takes the stage for the next GOP debate on Monday in Florida before a sizeable crowd of retirees.