Democratic lawmakers say Mitt Romney "was lying" during Wednesday night’s debate, claiming those alleged fabrications will erase any advantage he received from his well-reviewed performance.
"Romney’s performance featured a rather dramatic departure from his public record and campaign proposals," Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, said Thursday in an email, "and he displayed a reckless disregard for bedrock American values of truth and honesty."
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) accused Romney of simply "lying" to appear more centrist than he really is.
"We saw a Romney that is clearly an etch-a-sketch," she said in a phone interview Thursday. "He likes bank regulations now? He wants more teachers? No tax cuts for the rich? … He was basically lying."
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, piled on, saying Romney "went off the charts [by] contradicting himself … changing positions and outright fabricating issues."
The statements coincide with a pitch by the Obama campaign, which launched a series of ads Friday that attack Romney for being dishonest.
“If he’s unwilling to tell the truth about his record. . . then we’re happy to do the work for him,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters traveling with Obama on Air Force One.
The effort by Obama comes after the president’s own performance was roundly panned, as even his staunchest allies were frustrated that the president failed to call out Romney on most of the flips now being highlighted.
Romney’s campaign said it is confident the strategy would not work, criticizing the charges as simply an attempt to deflect from Obama’s stinging defeat. Romney's team also accused the Obama campaign of hypocrisy, arguing Obama aide Stephanie Cutter had admitted during a television interview this week that the president's frequent assertion that Romney's tax cut totaled $5 trillion was not necessarily true.
Romney's performance during Wednesday's debate — widely regarded as more animated and effective than Obama's — has shaken up the presidential contest by reinvigorating Republicans, putting Obama on the defensive and forcing the president's team to reevaluate its debate strategy.
But Democrats say Romney, on multiple occasions, contradicted positions he’d championed earlier in the campaign several times.
Romney, for instance, said Wednesday, "I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans."
Democrats say that pledge would seem to run counter to earlier vows to cut taxes for everyone — "including the top 1 percent" — to eliminate the estate tax, which would heavily favor the wealthy, and to extend the Bush-era tax rates for everyone, including the highest earners.
Romney during the debate also vowed, "I'm not going to cut education funding."
Yet, on his campaign website, Democrats point out Romney pledges to "send Congress a bill on Day One that cuts non-security discretionary spending" — which includes education funds — "by 5 percent across the board" and "pass the House Republican Budget proposal," which would cut billions of dollars from education programs.
Romney endorsed bank regulations at Wednesday’s debate. "Regulation is essential," he said. "You can't have a free market work if you don't have regulation."
This remark has Democrats crying foul, as his website warns that "regulations function as a hidden tax" and vows that Romney "will act swiftly to tear down the vast edifice of regulations the Obama administration has imposed."
Additionally, Romney suggested that his healthcare plan would guarantee coverage to anyone with a pre-existing medical condition, forcing his campaign to clarify afterwards that the guarantee would not extend to those with pre-existing conditions who've had a gap in their coverage.
Romney's campaign office declined to comment on these specific issues Friday, pointing instead to a Thursday statement from spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg, who accused the Obama campaign of going into post-debate damage-control mode with "false attacks, petulant statements, and lies about Gov. Romney’s record."
Questions about Romney's political motivations and conservative bona fides have long-dogged the former Massachusetts governor, who once supported abortion rights, enacted gun reform, conceded that humans are causing climate change and championed an individual insurance mandate.
Complicating things for Romney, the arrival of the Tea Party in recent years has shifted the Republican Party further to the right, forcing the GOP primary field to do the same and putting more distance between the former Massachusetts governor and some of the policies he's supported in the past.
Romney argues his willingness to adapt to different political environments is evidence of a deal-making pragmatism that only bolsters his argument for becoming president.
"We have to have a president who can reach across the aisle and fashion important legislation with the input from both parties," Romney said Wednesday.
But Obama is already using Romney’s words to attack.
Campaigning in Virginia on Friday, Obama said Romney used Wednesday's debate "to do a two-step and reposition" away from the hard-line conservative stands he took during the GOP primary.
"[He] got an extreme makeover," the president quipped.
Supporters of the president, meanwhile, are pressing his campaign to return to attacking Romney on the issues that had given the incumbent a growing advantage in the polls leading up to Wednesday's debate. Liberal pundits howled that Obama didn't use the platform to highlight Romney's track record at Bain Capital, his divisive "47-percent" comments, his refusal to release more than two years of tax returns or his tough position on illegal immigrants.
Democratic lawmakers want him to hit all those notes the next time around.
"You have to make Romney own things," Grijalva said. "He has to own his 18 months of campaigning, he has to own the Ryan budget and he has to own the Republican platform.
"There is going to be greater pressure [on Obama] in the next debate just to call him out," he said.