Romney Campaign Says Rick Perry’s Social Security Stance Has ‘Badly Damaged His Candidacy’

ABC News’ Michael Falcone reports:

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — Rick Perry thinks Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme,” and the Romney campaign wants everyone to know it.

“I think Rick Perry badly damaged his candidacy,” Romney campaign strategist Eric Fehrnstrom told ABC News after Wednesday night’s presidential debate. “I can’t think of a candidate from either party in modern times who has made it his or her platform to abolish Social Security as a federal entitlement.”

At the debate, Perry was confronted with criticism leveled by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who said in an interview with ABC News that, contrary to the Texas governor’s view, Social Security is “a program that a great many people depend on.”

“If Vice President Cheney or anyone else says that the program that we have in place today, and young people who are paying into that, expect that program to be sound, and for them to receive benefits when they research retirement age, that is just a lie,” Perry snapped. “I don’t care what anyone says.”

Perry, as he has many times before, also referred to the program as a “Ponzi scheme” at the debate, his first since jumping into the race.

“Anybody that’s for the status quo with Social Security today is involved with a monstrous lie to our kids, and it’s not right,” he said. On other occasions Perry has suggested that states should be allowed to opt-out of the entitlement program and replace it with something better.

“If the states want to opt out, that’s fine with Rick Perry,” Fehrnstrom said, “That is not a winning position for the Republican Party in 2012. It’s not a winning position for any party.”

It’s clear that the Romney campaign is going to use the Social Security issue as a club with which to bludgeon Perry, making the argument that his position renders him unelectable in a general election. Team Romney started last night with a press release during the debate headlined, “PERRY DOES NOT BELIEVE SOCIAL SECURITY SHOULD EXIST.” It offered a sampling of negative comments Perry has made about Social Security over the years. The Romney campaign followed up with a second statement Thursday morning with another screaming title: “RICK PERRY: RECKLESS, WRONG ON SOCIAL SECURITY.

Romney campaign strategist Stuart Stevens called Perry’s stance “an unelectable, disqualifying position.”

“It’s a complete reversal of the Republican platform on Social Security, and when you have a nominee, he defines what the platform is,” Stevens said. “This would mean that the Perry position to kill Social Security as a federal program would become the Republican position. That means everyone running for the House, everyone running for the Senate, they’re going to have to define themselves against the Perry plan to kill Social Security. That is a frightening thought.”

Perry and his team, however, are standing by the governor’s tough language on the entitlement program, often called the third-rail of American politics.

The governor’s top strategist Dave Carney told reporters in the spin room after the Reagan Library debate that the Perry campaign would “eventually” release its own plan for reforming the Social Security system and it wouldn’t be “just tinkering around the edges.”

“I think it’s naïve for the political elite to think that Social Security can’t be discussed, can’t be fixed, can’t be done better in this new modern era,” said Perry’s top strategist Dave Carney. “It is a Ponzi scheme and we will talk about how to fix it. But it’s not accepting the status quo and just tinkering around the edges.

Carney declined to specify a time frame for when the campaign would unveil a reform proposal.

“The governor has made it clear that Social Security is unsustainable in the long run. He wants to protect benefits for those at or near retirement and he wants to talk about, at that point, changes that will make the system fulfill its promise to young people,” added Perry’s communications director, Ray Sullivan. “We’ve got a lot of time to talk about specific solutions down the road.”

ABC News’ John Berman contributed reporting.