Political Animal


June 02, 2011 12:30 PM Someday, Romney will pick a persona and stick with it

By Steve Benen

Any minute now, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) will stand on a New Hampshire stage and launch his second presidential campaign, following a third-place finish in 2008. He’ll have a hard-hitting message to share, which we certainly haven’t heard from Romney before.

According to advance copies of his remarks, Romney will argue that the United States is “only inches away” from abandoning capitalism; we must repeal the federal health care law shaped on his own state plan; and if elected, Romney will “insist” that federal officials “respect the Constitution, including the 10th Amendment.”

This bears no resemblance to previous iterations of Mitt Romney. NBC’s First Read had a good take on this.

Four years ago, it was in Michigan (his original home state), where the backdrop consisted of automotive innovations (and where he walked out to Billy Ocean’s “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car”). This time, it’s at a picnic/barbeque in New Hampshire (what’s become an adopted home state). Four years ago, Romney was wearing a suit and a tie. This time, he’ll likely keep his more casual look. And four years ago, the message was heavy on social conservatism (stressing the importance of family, the sanctity of human life, and securing the borders). This time, it will be about his background and Barack Obama.

Here’s Romney’s biggest question, and it’s bigger than the individual mandate: Who, exactly, is Romney?

After watching Romney for quite a while, I haven’t the foggiest idea. The best answer I can come up with is Romney’s the guy with no real core beliefs, no unyielding convictions, and a willingness to flip-flop like no other American politician in a generation.

I’ve almost lost count of Romney’s iterations. Romney 1.0 was an independent who distanced himself from Reagan and H.W. Bush. Romney 2.0 was a moderate Republican who passed health care reform. Romney 3.0 was a social conservative who cared deeply about the culture war. Romney 4.0 hysterically fears the death of capitalism and is excited about the 10th Amendment.

Who, exactly, is Romney? No one knows, not even Romney. He’s the first modern presidential candidate to change his fundamental identity several times, depending on which way he thinks the political winds are blowing.

Mitt Romney is like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re going to get.

That may not, however, derail his candidacy. Indeed, given the rest of the field, Romney is arguably the frontrunner for the GOP nomination. The question is whether he can maintain that status for long.

In fact, it’s pretty easy to imagine the GOP base turning on him. His Republican rivals — likely to gang up on him from the outset — probably look at Romney like a pinata waiting to get hit.

After all, we’re talking about a former pro-choice governor who supported gay rights, gun control, comprehensive immigration reform, and combating climate change, who distanced himself from Reagan, who loves health care mandates, and who attended Planned Parenthood fundraisers.

Worse, his sole gubernatorial accomplishment served as a blueprint for President Obama’s health care policy, a detail the GOP base probably won’t care for when they see it mentioned in attack ads.

As for job creation, apparently the new focus of his campaign, during Romney’s only service in public office, his state’s record on job creation was “one of the worst in the country.” Adding insult to injury, “By the end of his four years in office, Massachusetts had squeezed out a net gain in payroll jobs of just 1 percent, compared with job growth of 5.3 percent for the nation as a whole.”

How bad is Romney’s record? During his tenure, Massachusetts ranked 47th out of 50 states in jobs growth.

But wait, Romney’s defenders say. Sure, his only experience in public office was a bust, but let’s not forget he was also in the private sector, running Bain Capital. Except, that’s not much of a defense given the frequency with which Bain slashed American jobs.

All told, I can see why Romney is the arguable favorite — he has high name recognition, a lot of money, and a credible operation — but I can also see why no one in either party is necessarily afraid of him.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Grumpy on June 02, 2011 12:42 PM:

    Y'know who's accusing Romney of inconsistency?

    Joe Miller. His Western Representation Tea Party PAC is declaring war on Romney's possible nomination. Because "Romney has flipped more than John Kerry flopped."

    Har har.

  • Joe Friday on June 02, 2011 12:42 PM:

    Willard Romney has become a CARTOON.

  • Mitch on June 02, 2011 12:43 PM:

    Flip-flopping is only a sin if you're a Democratic war hero. Republicans can change their opinions at the drop of a dime and nobody will notice.

    It's stomach-turning, but such is life.

    Still, I don't think that he has much of chance of getting his party's nomination. And I don't think that Romney or any other Republican stands a chance of unseating Obama next year. So, in a way, it's kind of fun watching him destroy his reputation and credibility, even if most Americans are clueless to it all.

  • Han's Big Solo on June 02, 2011 12:49 PM:

    "Who, exactly, is Romney?"

    Well that depends, who do you want him to be?

    PS - That was the easiest question I've answered all day long.

  • Rick on June 02, 2011 12:51 PM:

    Does anyone doubt that the real Mitt is a CEO-type Republican, 'moderate' in the sense that he'll make the necessary pro-forma panders, but doesn't really give a rat's ass about any of that social stuff.

    If we HAVE to have a Republican, at least he probably wouldn't do stupid things out of sheer ignorance.

  • j on June 02, 2011 12:59 PM:

    With Romney's abysmal performance with jobs in Mass. why would he campaign on job creation, he even bragged about laying people off in Massachusets!

  • Newton Whale on June 02, 2011 1:00 PM:

    Mitt Omni.

    He has taken every position on every issue.

    The name fits him like, well, a mitt:


  • GP on June 02, 2011 1:04 PM:

    Who (actually, "what") is Romney? Not much more than a nice face and a decent haircut. He fills the mandatory corporate CEO mold, with a winning smile and the ability to eat without drooling on his neighbors. He has shown that he can grab the easy money in a financial deal and run with it. He is not a true political leader, not by a long shot. I doubt he even thinks very hard about political choices. This is just another business proposition, and Romney knows he exactly the kind of paid actor some people enjoy shoving out in front to distract from the back-room gaggle of manipulative shits who work this scene.

  • j on June 02, 2011 1:07 PM:

    Han's Big Solo
    You are exactly right, just tell Mittens what you want him to be and he will be it!
    I think Huntsman is going to be same kind of candidate.
    Anyone know how many hundreds of thousands attended Romney's event today?

  • Rick Taylor on June 02, 2011 1:11 PM:

    This is why, of those running, Romney is among the least objectionable of the Republicans running for President. If forced to choose, I'll pick a charlatan who's embracing nutty ideas just to get elected over a true believer any day.

  • stormskies on June 02, 2011 1:16 PM:

    Inches away from abandoning capitalism ? That would be the same capitalism that allowed the evil greed of Wall Street to almost totally destroy our, and the world's economy, the same capitalism that allows us to be the only country in the world to make profits over people's ill heath, and allows those to die who simply can not afford the cost's for health insurance polices, the same capitalism that allows 'hedge fund managers to make billions all the while driving up the costs of commodities and fuel all over the world, the same capitalism that has allowed our government to become essentially a fascist government where the government does the bidding of the corporations themselves, where the 'representatives' of the 'people' are now representatives of the corporations whom they have bought and paid for, a capitalism that has allowed one percent of the population to control 40 percent of all wealth, a capitalism that allows corporate cum sluts like Brian Williams et-al to be paid 15 million a year while the teachers of our kids make about $35,000 a year, a capitalism driven by ever increasing evil greed that now promotes ever increasing 'tax breaks' for the wealthy while demanding the the poor and middle class pair ever more in taxes, a capitalism that has allowed every aspect of our reality to become corrupted because of that capitalism. Yes, we must protect this capitalism at all costs.

  • Chris on June 02, 2011 1:24 PM:

    Continue to keep an eye on Herman Cain. He, and the FairTax (federal sales tax) plan that he advocates, scares the hell out of me.

  • Gandalf on June 02, 2011 1:25 PM:

    when I was a kid Romney's Father was govenor of Michigan which is where I lived. I don't beleive that George Romney could get elected today as a dogcatcher if he were running as a republican. we didn't know what his religion was and we didn't care. He wasn't radical and he wasn't a flip floppper because he didn't have to appeal to a base thats sharply insane. Some of the things that Mitt Romney has done are very reminiscent of how his father performeed. I just wonder when the aliens sucked out his brain and relaced it with grits.

  • Barbara on June 02, 2011 1:40 PM:

    I think it's actually pretty simple -- It's the John Edwards problem, as my mother would say, the whole always seems to be less than the sum of the individual parts -- Romney thinks someone "like him" is just a natural for the presidency -- you know, a former governor, a manly looking guy with a good family pedigree of political involvement and a track record in private industry. On paper, the guy is no different from George Bush -- he figures that the rest, the policies and what not are just window dressing and no one will care once they read his biography. A smarter person would have figured out that he passed the sell-by date for THAT kind of presidential nomination.

  • Zorro on June 02, 2011 1:55 PM:

    All told, I can see why Romney is the arguable favorite — he has high name recognition, a lot of money, and a credible operation

    And don't forget his great, Presidential hair!

    A key requirement for a Republican these days, I think,

  • MattF on June 02, 2011 1:59 PM:

    Romney ought to be the obvious Republican choice for 2012 but he's not, and the problem is his lack of actual political beliefs. I'm quite sure Republicans have noticed this problem, and I believe it's the main reason for the large contingent among Republicans who are not impressed with any candidate.

  • T2 on June 02, 2011 2:10 PM:

    If hair is the qualifier, Rick Perry's your guy. ditto for stupid.

    Tea Party people and hard core Conservatives have no use for Mitt, and neither do evangelicals. As I said last week, if the GOP really wanted Romney, they'd have nominated him in 2008. They picked McCain over Romney, and I think that tell's you all you need to know about his chances this time around.

  • hell's littlest angel on June 02, 2011 2:13 PM:

    And another question:

    Why does this guy want to be president?

  • June on June 02, 2011 2:17 PM:

    This reply isn't about Romney, per se, but I'm really looking forward to the post-2012 election photos of the GOP in "complete disarray." 'Cause you know it's gonna happen!

  • tfbush on June 02, 2011 2:23 PM:

    Romney’s change on health care reform is more than a flip-flop. Many politicians abandon policy goals that encounter overwhelming political opposition, but Romney has gone beyond just abandoning his prior goal. He has become a full throated advocate of repealing ACA. Where he once fought to give health insurance coverage to those unable to buy it, he is now running on a promise to take coverage away from millions. It is as if Al Gore had run on a promise of repealing the Clean Air Act.

  • j on June 02, 2011 3:00 PM:

    Poor mittens, the Tea Party and Miller of Alaska are mounting a campaign to stop Mitt Romney.

  • N.Wells on June 02, 2011 3:52 PM:

    a willingness to flip-flop like no other American politician in a generation.
    I haven't done a quantitative comparison, but isn't that claim being very unfair to McCain's mind-blowing achievements in flip-flopping?

  • Aaron Baker on June 02, 2011 4:52 PM:

    I'm reminded of the Athenian demagogue who was nicknamed Kothournos, a kind of shoe that could be worn on either foot.

  • Betsey on June 02, 2011 5:29 PM:

    I use every opportunity to trot out my favorite line about Romney, via Frank Rich: "his appearance at CPAC on the morning of Friday, Feb. 11, was entirely consistent with his public image as an otherworldly visitor from an Aqua Velva commercial circa 1985."