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Democrat Critiques A Romney Stump Speech


As part of our ongoing elections coverage, we're talking stump speeches. Today on MORNING EDITION, we had a Republican political consultant listen to President Obama's remarks with a critical ear. Now, it's Mitt Romney's turn. Here's NPR's Tamara Keith with help from a Democratic operative.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Tad Devine is ready. He has a yellow legal pad next to his laptop as he watches Governor Romney's speech in Henderson, Nevada.

TAD DEVINE: OK. Here we go.

MITT ROMNEY: He's been reduced to try to defend characters on "Sesame Street" and...


ROMNEY: ...word games of various kinds and...

DEVINE: I could be quibbling about some this, but I'm going to wait until he says something really wrong, OK?


KEITH: Devine, who was a consultant for both the Gore and Kerry campaigns, doesn't wait very long.

ROMNEY: We've gone through four debates with the vice presidential debate and my debates, and we haven't heard an agenda from the president.

KEITH: Devine hits pause.

DEVINE: He's presented a comprehensive agenda. He's done so in writing. He did it - he's done it on his website. He's done it repeatedly. So this idea or proposition that President Obama has not laid out an agenda for the next four years or for the country's future is simply not true.

KEITH: Romney then moves on to the main theme of his stump speech, that the country can't handle four more years of President Obama's policies.

ROMNEY: I mean, can you afford four more years with 23 million Americans looking for a good job?


DEVINE: That's a very misleading figure.

KEITH: The way Romney gets to that number is by taking the 12 million people who are unemployed, adding those who are working part-time but would like to have a full-time job and those who have stopped looking for work but would like to have a job. To Devine, it seems like the challenger is looking to put the labor market in the worst possible light.

DEVINE: You know, if you just pile number on top of number, you can get to this astronomical number of 23 million. But it in no way reflects the unemployment rate in the country. It's about half as big as that.

KEITH: Later in the speech, Romney talks about the deficit under President Obama and what he'd do differently.

ROMNEY: We'll finally cut federal spending. We'll cap federal spending and get us on track to a balanced budget.

KEITH: Devine pipes in again.

DEVINE: Governor Romney has not proposed a plan to put the nation on track to a balanced budget, and neither has his running mate. I mean, frankly, his running mate's plan, which they passed through the House of Representatives, doesn't achieve a balanced budget for decades.

KEITH: Paul Ryan's budget doesn't eliminate the deficit until 2040. As for Romney's budget plan, the campaign says it would balance in eight to 10 years. Nonpartisan budget watchers say there's not enough detail to conclude that, and it would likely require such deep cuts it would be politically impossible.

ROMNEY: Four more years like the last four years means that we would see Obamacare. And that means that your health insurance premiums would go up by $2,500 a person. It puts the government in the doctor's office with you.

KEITH: For Democratic consultant Devine, this is a two-part whopper.

DEVINE: I don't know where he's coming up with these numbers for the increased cost of insurance premiums under Obamacare. I guess you can always find a study to support whatever you're saying.

KEITH: The campaign cites a report from the Congressional Budget Office. It says premiums could go up by $2,400 for a whole family, not per person. In part, that's because more family members would join the plans. But the report also says for many people, the increased costs would be offset by government subsidies.

As for the government in the doctor's office, Romney is alluding to an independent board created by the healthcare law to look for cost savings in Medicare. And this really has Devine bristling.

DEVINE: There is absolutely no change in the nature of the relationship between patients and doctors, OK? We still are going to have a system of private doctors who have patients who have insurance, which is private insurance. The doctors are not going to work for the federal government.

KEITH: Devine pauses the video with almost every applause line. At one point, he raises his arms and then grabs his head like he can't believe what he's seeing. For this Democratic operative, watching a speech intended for Republican partisans, it's as if he's entered an alternate reality. And in part, he says that's just the nature of campaign speeches, though he wishes it wasn't that way.

DEVINE: There should be some limits, you know?


DEVINE: There should be some rules.

KEITH: Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.