As governor of Massachusetts, the Washington Post has reported, Mitt Romney promised to protect and preserve the right to abortion, to work behind the scenes for gay rights (though not for gay marriage), and to work to prevent “climate change.”
Then he ran for president in the Republican primaries and his views took a U-turn, and charges were brought upon him of flipping, which still linger on to this day.
Before we judge him too harshly, we should recognize that Romney is a businessman-turned-politician who has never quite made the transition.
In the political world, things are driven by issues and values. In the commercial world, people try to adjust to the market. The whims of consumers should always be catered to, and the customer is always king.
Beginning political life in blue Massachusetts, he quickly attempted to please the consumer, running to incumbent Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy’s left on some social issues, losing to him but becoming governor six years later, taking the office that Ted wanted his nephew to fill.
In 2007, running for president in the Republican primaries, he once more adjusted to market conditions. With Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani under suspicion as liberals, Romney ran to their right, positioning himself as the one true conservative.
He did this so well that talk radio rallied behind him, throwing him into the breach at the very last moment as their last hope of stopping McCain.
In 2011, he is up against a large field of social conservatives, and he runs as the hope of the anti-extremists — and talk radio attacks him as a tool of the establishmen that won’t let a conservative win.
What is the constant? As a skilled technocrat with no deep opinions of, or interest in, a large range of issues, he assumes opinions he thinks will convince people to elect him.
Put it this way and it does not sound so sinister, but it comes over as soulless. And even his allies are rather uneasy, fearing he may sell them out.
If Romney is elected, conservatives fear, he may revert to being the man he was while in Massachusetts, or be another Republican big spender, like President George W. Bush.
But when Bush spent, he had no idea that this crisis was coming, and Massachusetts is not the U.S. The American electorate today is far to the right of the Bay State, to the right of where it was when Romney was governor, and to the right of where it was in 2008.
In 2008, Greece hadn’t collapsed, bringing the welfare state into question, and making retrenchment essential.
Conservatives should make it clear now that they are his market. If he runs true to form and adjusts to the market and mood of the moment, they may have little to fear.
“The main issues of this campaign — economic growth and budget restraints — are in the sweet spot of his convictions,” writes Michael Gerson. “Romney speaks on these matters with ease, authority and evident sincerity. On the largest topics … the charge of inauthenticity doesn’t ring true.”
Romney has brains, and a wealth of experience he wants to put at his country’s disposal. But after trying too hard to be what people want, the one thing they want to know now is what he wants without them.
Keeping the customer satisfied has led to a lot of unsatisfied customers. Politics isn’t the same thing as making a profit. Who knew?
Examiner columnist Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations; The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”