Mitt Romney’s campaign can effectively be boiled down into two parts. One was his first debate appearance, during which he aggressively attacked President Obama’s abysmal record and vigorously explained and defended his own policy proposals. During the other part of his campaign — encompassing his convention speech, his subsequent two debate performances, and his many months on the campaign trail — Romney (for the most part) didn’t aggressively attack Obama’s record or vigorously explain and defend his own policy proposals. One of these two parts of Romney’s campaign clearly worked, and one clearly didn’t. Republicans would do well to heed the results of this costly experiment.

During that memorable first debate, Romney particularly scored by rebutting Obama’s contrived charges that Romney’s tax plan would be a boon for the rich at the expense of the middle class; by explaining his pro-growth tax and regulatory policies in a way that wisely positioned the GOP as the party of small business and Main Street; and by attacking Obama on his fiscal profligacy, his “green energy” crony capitalism, and Obamacare.

It’s worth reviewing that entire performance, but here are some of the highlights of Romney’s finest hour (and a half):

“[V]irtually everything he just said about my tax plan is inaccurate….What I’ve said is I won’t put in place a tax cut that adds to the deficit. That’s part one….Number two, I will not reduce the share paid by high-income individuals. I know that you and your running mate keep saying that, and I know it’s a popular thing to say with a lot of people, but it’s just not the case. Look, I’ve got five boys. I’m used to people saying something that’s not always true, but just keep on repeating it and ultimately hoping I’ll believe it….And number three, I will not under any circumstances raise taxes on middle-income families. I will lower taxes on middle-income families…

“[L]et’s get at the bottom line. That is, I want to bring down rates. I want to bring the rates down, [and] at the same time lower deductions and exemptions and credits and so forth, so we keep getting the revenue we need. And you’d think, well, then why lower the rates?...And the reason is because small business pays that individual rate; 54 percent of America's workers work in businesses that are taxed not at the corporate tax rate, but at the individual tax rate. And if we lower that rate, they will be able to hire more people. For me, this is about jobs….

“[The deficit is] a critical issue. I think it’s not just an economic issue, I think it’s a moral issue. I think it’s, frankly, not moral for my generation to keep spending massively more than we take in, knowing those burdens are going to be passed on to the next generation and they’re going to be paying the interest and the principal all their lives….What things would I cut from spending? Well, first of all, I will eliminate all programs by this test…: Is the program so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I'll get rid of it. Obamacare’s on my list….

“[T]he Department of Energy has said the tax break for oil companies is $2.8 billion a year. And it’s actually an accounting treatment, as you know, that’s been in place for a hundred years….[In] one year, you provided $90 billion in breaks to the green energy world….Now, I like green energy as well, but that’s about 50 years’ worth of what oil and gas receives. And you say Exxon and Mobil. Actually, this $2.8 billion goes largely to small companies, to drilling operators and so forth….

“[Y]ou put $90 billion, like 50 years’ worth of breaks, into — into solar and wind, to Solyndra and Fisker and Tester and Ener1. I mean, I had a friend who said you don’t just pick the winners and losers, you pick the losers….

“Dodd-Frank was passed. And it includes within it a number of provisions that I think [have] some unintended consequences that are harmful to the economy. One is it designates a number of banks as too big to fail, and they’re effectively guaranteed by the federal government. This is the biggest kiss that’s been given to — to New York banks I’ve ever seen. This is an enormous boon for them. [Meanwhile, there have] been 122 community and small banks have closed since Dodd- Frank….[It’s] killing regional and small banks….

“[W]hen you look at Obamacare, the Congressional Budget Office has said it will cost $2,500 a year more than traditional insurance. So it’s adding to cost. And as a matter of fact, when the president ran for office, he said that, by this year, he would have brought down the cost of insurance for each family by $2,500 a family. Instead, it’s gone up by that amount….So that’s one reason I don't want it….Second reason, it cuts $716 billion from Medicare to pay for it. I want to put that money back in Medicare for our seniors….Number three, it puts in place an unelected board that’s going to tell people ultimately what kind of treatments they can have. I don’t like that idea….Fourth, there was a survey done of small businesses across the country…[and] three-quarters of them said it makes us less likely to hire people. I just don't know how the president could have come into office, facing 23 million people out of work, rising unemployment, an economic crisis…and spend his energy and passion for two years fighting for Obamacare instead of fighting for jobs for the American people….

“In my opinion, the government is not effective in — in bringing down the cost of almost anything. As a matter of fact, free people and free enterprises trying to find ways to do things better are able to be more effective in bringing down the cost than the government will ever be….

“The role of government is to promote and protect the principles of [The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence]….[We] are endowed by our Creator with our rights, I believe we must maintain our commitment to religious tolerance and freedom in this country….[We] are endowed by our Creator with the right to pursue happiness as we choose….

“[We] also believe in maintaining for individuals the right to pursue their dreams and not to have the government substitute itself for the rights of free individuals. And what we’re seeing right now is, in my view, a — a trickle-down-government approach, which has government thinking it can do a better job than free people pursuing their dreams. And it’s not working….

“[T]his is an important election….It’s an election about the [future] course of America.”

If the Mitt Romney of the first debate had appeared over the course of the entire campaign, America would be looking at a very different future.

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