10/16/2012 03:20 pm ET Updated Dec 16, 2012

Romney, Marx and the GOP Brand

There is a long-standing strain in conservative thought that America is essentially a conservative country that has been led astray and duped by the "liberal media" and Hollywood. The most recent articulation of this view is in books like Obama Zombies and documentaries like The Obama Deception, which contend that the election of Barack Obama was the result of a brainwashed electorate.

If that were the case, then one would think conservatives would relish the few hours of live televised debates as their only chance to reach voters unfiltered by the black magic of the liberal media. One would expect this to be the moment when they make an impassioned plea for conservative principles.

So when Mitt Romney took the stage in Denver to debate President Obama, this should have been the moment when the former governor made the conservative case for his agenda. Instead, Romney turned to Marx -- Groucho, not Karl -- and adopted the "who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes" approach to questions about his agenda.

Romney could not run fast enough from the details of his plan which all facts to the contrary suddenly did not (a) have a $5 trillion tax cut proposal; (b) which reduced taxes for the wealthiest; (c) raised taxes on the middle class; and (d) exploded the deficit. Nope, not his plan, we must be thinking of some other guy running for president.

In debating health care with the president, this was not the moment when he planted the flag for free market solutions, but rather, he claimed to have a plan that competed with Obamacare and even covered pre-existing conditions (which his staff later conceded was untrue).

This was nothing new, as George W. Bush took the same tact when debating Al Gore in 2000, contending that his tax plan primarily benefited lower brackets and assuring voters that that he would use half of the surplus toward Social Security. This could not have been farther from the truth.

As president, Bush continued this same pattern, leading a number of bloggers such as myself to catalog with astonishment the hundreds of lies emanating from Pennsylvania Avenue. As John Dean would explain in his book Worse than Watergate, the Bush administration had elevated mendacity to public policy with all major initiatives cloaked in deception.

After his re-election Bush tried to "cash in" the political capital he believed he had accumulated to achieve a longtime conservative dream -- privatizing Social Security. Once the proposal was subject to the cold sun of public scrutiny, the major policy initiative of Bush's second term died a quick death despite a nationwide campaign by the president.

Far from being embraced by this fictional conservative nation, the Bush administration and Republicans instead faced a public backlash. In the aftermath, one Republican Congressman conceded that the Republican brand was "in the trash can" and that if it were a dog food it would be taken off the shelf. Recent polling suggests that this view remains unchanged.

The Republicans know they cannot win on the strength of their ideas, but rather must rely on hijacking the democratic process to frustrate the true will of the people. "Hijacking" no doubt is a strong word, but what do you call purging thousands of legitimate voters from the voting rolls and erecting barriers to combat "voter fraud" that they admit never occurred?

What do you call using millions in unregulated campaign funds to sell the American people dog food by telling them it's something else? That is precisely what happened in Denver, as Gov. Romney rebranded his entire platform.

Romney lacked the courage to push his party to adopt an agenda that the country could embrace, so now he must convince the country that his agenda is not really dog food but a Taco Supreme. In doing so, it is clear that Romney understands one important point that the conservative zombie theorists refuse to recognize -- it is not the Democrats but the Republican Party that must rely on the electorate's suspension of disbelief to win in November.

This brings us to the great irony of this race. The Romney family's presidential ambitions, which ran aground after George Romney claimed to have been "brainwashed" into supporting the Vietnam War, must now rely on his son's attempt to brainwash the American people into believing that his agenda is anything but what he has said it was these past two years.