In the Oct. 3 debate, Romney was asked about the criticism of his vagueness about which exemptions and deductions he would change in the tax code while lowering all rates. His answer suggested the vagueness was intentional, that it foretold openness to collaborating with Congress: "[In] my experience as a governor, if I come in and lay down a piece of legislation, and say, 'It's my way or the highway,' I don't get a lot done. What I'd do is the same way that [Democratic House Speaker] Tip O'Neill and [Republican President] Ronald Reagan worked together...."
Analyses of Romney's style of governing Massachusetts reveal a man who took office with a chief-executive-officer approach to government, and learned that his top-down style didn't work. Some initiatives "vanished without a trace" because he hadn't cultivated relationships in the Democratic legislature, write Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman in "The Real Romney." "Romney, never a backslapper, invested little in building such ties – or even in getting to know the players."
The major exception came well into Romney's term, when he worked with Democratic state legislators to enact landmark health-care reform. But even there, the Globe reporters write, Romney left most of the horse-trading to others. Only when the effort appeared on the verge of failure did he intervene, at one point personally going on a Sunday morning to legislative leaders' homes to twist arms. He also got critical backing from the state's Democratic titan, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.
When asked about Romney's ability to work across the aisle, his campaign is more likely to tout his economic record in Massachusetts – a balanced budget without raising sales or income taxes – than his health-care overhaul.