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Mitt Romney's Vote For Paul Tsongas In The '90s Has Become Important In 2012, For Some Reason

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Years from now, assuming that the human race survives in a way that allows us all to have the free time to reminisce about the politics of the past, and not in a way where we're all on the run from our own drone warbots turned sentient, our grandchildren are going to ask us, "Hey, back in 2012, why was there so much discussion over who voted for Paul Tsongas during the '90s?" And we'll tell them, "Oh, darling, I ravaged that part of my brain with Xanax so long ago I can't remember." So, I guess it's good that Politifact has adjudicated this matter for posterity.

At issue is the past voting record of Mitt Romney, the discussion of which has recently become all the rage on the campaign trail, because everyone has run out of things to talk about that matter in our contemporary American lives. See, in his ongoing effort to characterize Romney as a "Massachusetts moderate," Newt Gingrich criticized Romney for casting a vote for Paul Tsongas in the 1992 Democratic Primary. Romney answered back:

"I've never voted for a Democrat when there was a Republican on the ballot. And -- and in my state of Massachusetts, you could register as an independent and go vote in (whichever) primary happens to be very interesting. And any chance I got to vote against Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy, I took. … I have always voted for a Republican any time there was a Republican on the ballot."

OK, so, at the debate, Romney voted for Tsongas because he was voting "against Clinton." Of course, at the time, there were Republicans on a ballot, but as an independent voter, if Romney asked for the Democratic ballot, that's what he got. (And as Politifact correctly notes, "By the time of the Massachusetts Primary, the renomination contest for Bush was all but over, whereas the Democratic contest still had some life in it.") So, if Romney is showing up and voting strategically, all of this makes sense. (Though it's remarkable that Romney bothered to go to all this trouble.)

However, the Romney-as-strategic-voter story has not always been the one Romney has presented as the reason he voted for Tsongas. There's also the whole, "I-like-Tsongas-because-I'd-like-to-moderate-each-party's-extremes" story. Per Politifact:

Media reports dating back to 1994 -- when Romney first ran as a Republican for Senate -- said that he had acknowledged voting for former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas in the 1992 Democratic presidential primary in Massachusetts.

"An independent until last December, he publicizes his brief stint as a Democrat to support ex-senator Paul Tsongas in the 1992 presidential primary," wrote David Broder in the Washington Post on Oct. 7, 1994. " ‘I'm not a partisan politician,’ he said. ‘My hope is that after this election, it will be the moderates of both parties who will control the Senate, not the Jesse Helmses.'"

Based solely on the fact that it was true that when Romney showed up to vote and asked for a Democratic ballot -- on which no Republican candidates were obviously found -- Politifact gives Romney a "half true" rating. Over at New York magazine, Jonathan Chait offers his own countering take: "Why yes, Mitt Romney does lie a great deal." As Chait notes, the "strategic voting" story is only something that Romney's started using recently. Prior to 2007, Romney never claimed to be cagily casting votes during the primary.

I'll be closer to Chait, and to me, what matters is the audience of Romney's ever-convenient explanations. When Romney claims to be voting strategically, he's at a GOP debate, responding to Newt Gingrich, for the benefit of the GOP base in Florida. When Romney claims to be voting for greater moderation, he's talking to David Broder. And that's precisely what you would have said to Broder if you wanted him to look positively upon you. This is classic Mitt Romney telling the person/people he's talking to what he thinks they most want to hear. If you're of the mind to think that these tactics are deceptive, then call him a liar.

Just remember we're still talking about Paul Tsongas, for Pete's sake!

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