Romney adviser: Debate led to 'dynamic shift in the campaign'

A top political adviser to Mitt Romney's campaign said the Republican nominee's performance in Wednesday's debate "made a difference" and would lead to a "dynamic shift in the campaign."

"It was a substantive debate last night, and I think that's why Gov. Romney did so well, because a lot of people saw him for the first time, not in a 30-second attack ad or a 12-second snippet on the news, but got to hear him directly," Romney adviser Ed Gillespie told MSNBC on Thursday. "I think it was a good thing."

A shake-up in a race that has seen Romney consistently trailing President Obama by a small yet steady margin is exactly what Republicans hope to see, and the morning after the debate Gillespie argued repeatedly that for many Americans, it was their first chance to see Romney directly engaging with the president.

"I think the American people saw Gov. Romney's plans for the future," he told NBC's "The Today Show." "We didn't hear much, frankly, from President Obama about any second-term agenda, and he didn't have a very credible defense of his first-term agenda. And I think the American people saw that last night."

Gillespie also defended Romney from charges from the Obama campaign that the Republican's debate performance had lacked a substantive explanation of how he would implement his stated goals.

"You heard him talk quite a bit about his plans for tax reform to bring down rates 20 percent across the board," Gillespie told MSNBC. "It's not a tax cut for a lot of people. If you're in the middle class, you'll get tax relief to encourage investment, savings, capital gains, dividends. But otherwise it's going to broaden the base."

Gillespie also insisted it was inappropriate to list exactly how Romney would reform the tax code, since doing so could box a Romney administration in during negotiations with Congress.

"If you negotiate this now, you and me on the set or candidates in campaigns across the country, you end up locking people in positions in a political environment that makes it impossible to govern, that makes it impossible to bring people together because they make campaign commitments right away in a campaign environment in a polarized environment," Gillespie said.

On Wednesday night, President Obama repeatedly emphasized his argument that Romney's tax plan and budget priorities were incompatible. 

"When you add up all the loopholes and deductions that upper-income individuals are currently taking advantage of, you take those all away, you don’t come close to paying for $5 trillion in tax cuts and $2 trillion in additional military spending," Obama said. "And that’s why independent studies looking at this said the only way to meet Gov. Romney’s pledge of not reducing the deficit — or not adding to the deficit — is by burdening middle-class families; the average middle-class family with children would pay about $2,000 more."

But Thursday, Gillespie insisted there were lots of ways to skin the tax-reform cat — and that the options could accommodate Romney's goals of lowering rates, protecting the middle class's effective rate, and not adding to the deficit.

"Maybe you would cap the level of deductions so you wouldn't, you know, necessarily eliminate a loophole, you would limit how many deductions you could take," Gillespie said. "That would give people discretion. You could figure out how high that should be. Should it be a percentage of income? Should it be a set figure? There are a lot of ways you can get these things done."