Decoding Mitt Romney's Dog Whistle

On Saturday night, Fox News and Mike Huckabee hosted a special forum for the GOP presidential candidates. Instead of a typical debate, the candidates faced questions from a panel of three Republican state attorney generals. (Curiously, Huckabee barely uttered a word.) The evening was a golden opportunity for Mitt Romney to regain his footing — having weathered the implosion of the Cain Train, Romney has seen yet another new rival, Newt Gingrich, surge in polls. Romney has to get his groove back and prove that he’s both likable and a true conservative.

That’s a thin line to walk: The former Massachusetts governor has to be conservative enough to win the GOP nomination, but not so right-wing that he scares off independent voters for the general election. Romney’s tactic? Give vague answers that can be interpreted by both groups of voters however they see fit. Luckily, we’ve cracked the code.

On the EPA: “I think the EPA has gotten out of control for a very simple reason: It is a tool in the hands of the president to crush the private enterprise system, to crush our ability to have energy, whether it’s coal, gas, nuclear … The EPA wants to be able to get in and grab more power, and basically try to move the whole economy away from oil, gas, coal, nuclear and push it to renewables. Listen, we all like renewables. But renewables alone are not going to power this economy.”
GOP translation: “Obama is a socialist who hates capitalism and the American way.”
Independent translation: “I drove a Prius once, and I secretly liked it.”

On President Obama inevitably stating in a debate that his national healthcare plan was based on Romney’s: “I sure look forward to that because I’ll say Mr. President, thank you for the compliment, but why didn’t you give me a call? Why didn’t you pick up the phone and ask me what I’d do differently and what I’d do the same? Why didn’t you ask me what the flaws were in the Massachusetts plan?”
GOP translation: “Obama is a socialist who hates capitalism and the American way.”
Independent translation: “I put America first, and if the president had only asked me, I would have helped him build a better healthcare system.”

On No Child Left Behind and the elimination of the Department of Education: “Let me say that I continue to support aspects of No Child Left Behind. I’m not looking to change that position in any way.”
Independent translation: “I HATE FLIP-FLOPS! I WEAR TEVAS!”

On states taking the lead in the enforcement of illegal immigration: “My view is that states have the responsibility to care for the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of their citizens, and if the federal government is failing to fulfill its responsibility to enforce immigration laws, then states should have to take action. In my state, when I was governor, I took action. There was an effort on the part of the legislature to provide in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, I vetoed that. There was a discussion on drivers licenses, and I said, ‘No way.’ I actually empowered our state police to work with ICE to carry out federal immigration laws.”
GOP translation: “Gingrich might be a softie, but I am the Jack Bauer of illegal immigration.”
Independent translation: “I am a reasonable human being who believes that we must fix the immigration system.”