Mr. Kristof is “Waiting for Mitt the Moderate,” and says if Mitt Romney ends up winning the Republican presidential nomination, let’s hope that he reverts to the moderate pragmatist he was for most of his career. Ms. Collins, in “March of the Non-Mitts,” says she can’t wait to see what the Republicans do next. New Hampshire is lovely this time of year. Here’s Mr. Kristof:
The reassuring thing about Mitt Romney is that for most of his life he probably wouldn’t have voted for today’s Mitt Romney.
This is a man who registered as a Republican only in preparation for his 1994 Senate campaign against Edward Kennedy; previously, Romney had registered as an independent. As recently as 2002, in his successful run for governor of Massachusetts, he described himself this way: “People recognize that I am not a partisan Republican, that I’m someone who is moderate, and that my views are progressive.”
That was accurate, and Romney became an excellent, moderate and pragmatic governor of Massachusetts. But then, in 2005, he apparently began to fancy himself as Republican presidential timber and started veering to the right in what we can all pray was a cynical, unprincipled pander.
This does, at least, furnish opportunities for political humor. “Mitt Romney will face his fiercest ideological opponent,” Conan O’Brien has suggested. “Himself from four years ago.”
Jay Leno offered: “Well, the presidential race is getting interesting. In an effort to clear up his reputation as a flip-flopper, Mitt Romney will give a speech on health care. And then, right afterward, he’ll give a five-minute rebuttal.”
Now that he has won the Iowa caucuses, Romney’s chances for winning the Republican nomination are better than 80 percent, according to the betting site Intrade. For the general election, Intrade predicts that the Republican nominee (whomever it ends up being) has a 46 percent chance of winning the presidency in November. The Democrat, presumably Barack Obama, has a 52 percent chance of winning, it says.
The upshot is that Romney, assuming that he continues his ascent between now and the primaries’ Super Tuesday on March 6, will soon have to make a final flip — back to his old self.
The narrative of a flip-flopper has been used effectively in the past against Democrats such as Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004. In the 1992 Democratic primaries, Paul Tsongas accused Bill Clinton of being a “pander bear.” Romney should be forewarned: once the narrative gets started, it feeds itself.
The Democratic National Committee has already released a slick four-minute video that plays to this theme by excoriating Romney for his gymnastics:
“Mitt Romney, unparalleled flip-flopper, has proved he is his own toughest opponent on the issues,” the Democrats write on MittvMitt.com, where the video is housed. “The one thing Mitt and Mitt can agree on? That they want to be president — so Romney will say and do whatever it takes to get elected, no matter how contradictory.”
It’s true that Romney has clearly shifted positions on abortion — apparently a calculated reversal so that he could compete in Republican presidential primaries — and on assault weapons, tax pledges and the legacy of President Ronald Reagan. And he ties himself in knots explaining why he opposes a national health care plan modeled on the Massachusetts plan that became law when he was governor.
But the Democratic claims of constant inconstancy seem exaggerated. The excellent Web site FactCheck.org found that most of the accusations in the Democrats’ video were dubious. Typically, Romney had a fairly complex position, and the Democrats caricatured it to portray a flip that wasn’t there or that was ambiguous. For example, Romney supported a stimulus, but not of the magnitude of Obama’s, so it wasn’t a flip-flop for him to oppose the Obama stimulus.
If we do see, as I expect we will, a reversion in the direction of the Massachusetts Romney, that’s a flip we should celebrate. Until the Republican primaries sucked him into its vortex, he was a pragmatist and policy wonk rather similar to Bill Clinton and President Obama but more conservative. (Clinton described Romney to me as having done “a very good job” in Massachusetts.) Romney was much closer to George H.W. Bush than to George W. Bush.
One reason to expect a re-emergence of the traditional moderate Romney — other than that it will be expedient — is that his advisers incline in that direction.
On the economy, Romney has been advised by the likes of Professor Gregory Mankiw of Harvard and Professor Glenn Hubbard of Columbia. Both are experienced, prominent figures, albeit tending conservative. In foreign affairs, Romney’s advisers have included Richard Williamson, Eric Edelman, Meghan O’Sullivan, Paula Dobriansky, Daniel Senor and Dov Zakheim. These, too, are credible, respected figures.
So, in the coming months, the most interesting political battle may be between Romney and Romney. Now, do we really want a chameleon as a nominee for president? That’s a legitimate question. But I’d much rather have a cynical chameleon than a far-right ideologue who doesn’t require contortions to appeal to Republican primary voters, who says things that Republican candidates have all been saying and, God forbid, actually means it.
Now here’s Ms. Collins, who’s in Peterborough, NH:
“This is the New Hampshire primary! This is a big deal! I can’t even believe I’m standing here!” cried Jon Huntsman, who yearns to be the Rick Santorum of New Hampshire.
That’s what it’s come to. Do you think this is what Huntsman told himself when he quit his distinguished post as ambassador to China? (“Diplomacy is all well and good, but I believe I was meant for greater things. Like being the Rick Santorum of New Hampshire.”)
Santorum, of course, was the man of the hour when he sort-of-almost-nearly came in first in the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday. Actually, Mitt Romney won. (Eight Republicans can’t be wrong!) But Santorum has the momentum. His strategy of spending his entire life going from one Iowa Pizza Ranch to another paid off.
After campaigning only in New Hampshire, with 150 events in the bag, Huntsman hopes for a similar triumph. It’s the famous one-state strategy that worked so well in 2008 for Rudy Giuliani.
“I’d thought we’d never get here, but here we are!” he told an audience in the Peterborough town hall. Actually, getting to the Peterborough town hall is not all that remarkable. I have personally been there several times, but, of course, that is because I have a glamorous career in journalism, which allows me to have elite access to events like the one headlined: “Tom Ridge Introduces Jon Huntsman.” You may remember Ridge from his stint as chief of the Department of Homeland Security. He was the one with the yellow-orange-red terror colors.
Huntsman is incredibly buoyant, to the point of appearing to be just a little bit goofy. (“Last night in Dover I was met by a goat! The same goat that bit my kneecap when I was there three months ago!”) He has a large, attractive family, but large attractive families are a dime a dozen this year. Michele Bachmann had 23 foster children, and she’s already out of the race.
Jon Huntsman is the Republican that the White House most feared, possibly because the White House is full of Democrats. He is way behind in the New Hampshire polls, and he lacks the loony streak that primary voters seem to find so attractive this time around. Really, he is toast unless he does something remarkable over the next week. Not remarkable in the sense of making a good point in the next debate. Remarkable as in saving a baby from being run over by stopping a speeding car with one hand.
There are still plenty of other Republican options. After his fifth-place finish in Iowa, Rick Perry suspended his campaign but then tweeted, “Here we come, South Carolina.” This appeared to surprise some of his staff, who seemed to feel as if their long political nightmare had ended in Des Moines. But it turned out that Perry had jogged his way back into the race.
“I was out on the trail when it kind of came to me,” he said.
Quite a lot comes to the governor of Texas when he’s jogging. You will remember the coyote he killed with his laser-sighted Ruger. No word on whether a pistol was involved in this latest revelation.
Ron Paul is still in competition, as is Newt Gingrich, who appears to be running mainly on rancor, the candidate of the I Want to Eat Mitt’s Liver Party. And Rick Santorum, who continued the excitement of Iowa by flying into New Hampshire for a rally at a nursing home.
Mitt Romney himself was greeted in Manchester by a group of people cordoned off into half a high school auditorium. This helped disguise the crowd’s small size but not the fact that it appeared to be made up mainly of Ron Paul supporters, dragooned teenagers and refugees from Occupy Wall Street.
The highlight of the event was supposed to be an endorsement from John McCain, whose innermost thoughts we would love to be privy to. Or maybe not.
McCain’s old loathing of Romney has now been totally overshadowed by his hatred of President Obama. “You can’t hide from your record of making this country bankrupt, from destroying our national security and making this nation one that we have to restore with Mitt Romney as president of the United States of America!” McCain snarled into the mic. It was an endorsement, but not the feel-good moment we were sort of looking for. Fortunately, they did play the new Kid Rock theme song that implicitly compares Romney to a wild stallion.
Can’t wait to see what the Republicans do next. You have to admit they’re desperate. Rick Santorum. Geesh.
Did I ever mention that Romney once drove to Canada with the family Irish setter strapped to the roof of the car? The dog’s name was Seamus. New Hampshire Republicans, if you can’t think of anybody to vote for on Tuesday, consider writing in the name Seamus when you go to the polls. Maybe we can start a boomlet.
Makes as much sense as the Newt Gingrich moment.