The Man Who Would Be Mitt: Find a Niche and Fill It
Political pundits are having a field day with Mitt Romney. Hypocrisy has become the only unforgivable sin in American politics and Romney is up for a lead role in "Prime Suspect." Guns, abortion, stem cell research, fidelity to Reagan, tax pledges-all Romney positions reversed, modified, "evolved" or faked, depending on your view. Was he truthful then or now? Was his change of heart genuine or not? The underlying message is that Romney is a hypocrite, faking his views to burnish his conservative credentials. I think these pundits have it wrong.
To be a hypocrite implies one has fixed views but is feigning different ones for personal gain. In other words, one has beliefs but they are up for sale, trade-in or abandonment for new ones. Romney is off the hook here since it is increasingly clear that he has no beliefs whatsoever.
The key to understanding Romney is his resume. He had his great success as a turnaround specialist. As founder and CEO of Bain Capital he identified failing companies, saw potential if their direction could be changed, and revamped them for a new and successful future.
It now appears his greatest turnaround is being done to "Moderate Mitt." Clearly the old "Socially-Progressive Mitt" was not going to cut it in the burgeoning market of GOP candidates. The moderate GOP "niche" was filled by America's Mayor. The war leader "niche" might be good but unfortunately was aptly filled by, well, a war hero. What to do? Take over and "re-brand" into "Moderate Mitt," AKA the new and improved social conservative, "Seen-the-Light Mitt." With a good spokesman, a compelling conversion story and lots of ready ad dollars it might work.
Too harsh a view? Well, a 77-page PowerPoint presentation created by his campaign and worthy of his Bain days apparently agrees with this analysis.
According to the Boston Globe, a campaign document says Romney has a plan for "branding himself, framing his competitors, and allaying voter concerns about his record, his Mormon faith, and his shifts on key issues like abortion." The Globe reports, "a page titled 'Primal Code for Brand Romney' said that Romney should define himself as a foil to Bay State Democrats such as Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry and former governor Michael Dukakis. Romney should position himself as 'the anti-Kerry,' the presentation says. But elsewhere in the plan, it's clear that Romney and his aides are aware he's open to the same charge that helped derail Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004: that he is a flip-flopper who has changed positions out of political expediency."
He does get points for candor by admitting he is "unlikely to be the top pick for those voters looking for a 'war/strong leader.'" That may not go over well with supporters of the President. That is ok. Romney seems indifferent to their concerns and is willing to distinguish his brand from Bush's with one word, the document says, "intelligence." Maybe this is his cross over appeal to Democrats who think the President is dim.
Finally, how to dispense with that "mature brand" as the Romney memo describes McCain? Step one might be to avoid calling the only genuine war hero in the race a "mature brand." Indeed, he thought of that and "wants to avoid attacking either man too directly or harshly."
His self-description as a "turnaround CEO Governor" says it all. Only Romney or a campaign guru could conjure up in voters minds the worst qualities of John Kerry and George Bush in one campaign tag line. Sometimes a candidate is just in a class by himself. Hey, maybe that pitch will work. Apparently for this Zelig-like candidate anything is worth a try.
Jennifer Rubin is a writer based in Virginia. Her articles have appeared in The American Spectator, ABC News, The American Thinker, Human Events and National Review among others.