Who is the real Mitt Romney?


With a squeaker of a win in Iowa over a late-surging Rick Santorum, an all-but-assured victory looming in the New Hampshire primary, and growing support in South Carolina, Mitt Romney will finally face the scrutiny that comes with being a presidential candidate. Romney can expect his political record as governor in Massachusetts and his professional career at Bain Capital to be inspected under a more critical light. We may finally learn the answer to the question so many Republicans have been asking: who is the real Mitt Romney?

The prevailing narrative from Romney’s Republican opponents is that he is too moderate for the conservative movement. He is portrayed as a blue-stater with a penchant for compromise, a man who would fraternize with the likes of the Ted Kennedy. As a result, despite polls showing his relative electability against Obama, Romney’s popularity is stuck at 25 per cent among GOP fervents. He is steady, but unloved.

Romney’s detractors add to the narrative by calling him a flip-flopper—which he is. But this is hardly an original argument. A devastating ad from John McCain’s 2008 campaign has resurfaced on YouTube, reminding Republican voters of Romney’s many changes of heart.

Romney’s adversaries want his changing positions on abortion, healthcare and gay rights to show he lacks core conservative values and will be a liability in the contest with Obama. The truth is Romney has actually expressed views that are far more conservative than those of his rivals in certain areas. He is to the right of Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich on immigration reform, would adopt policies regarding China that could lead to a trade war, and has taken a particularly combative stance on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. His rhetoric against Obama is at least as strident as that of his rivals, and Romney is far from moderate when it comes to opposing tax hikes.

So just who is the real Romney? The moderate Massachussetts governor who brought in the forerunner to Obama’s health care reform bill? The flip flopper on social values issues? The hard-line conservative with strident positions on immigration, taxes and Iran? Therein lies his problem with primary voters at this stage of his candidacy.

The ambivalence around Romney may help him with independent voters in a general election. But authenticity matters, too—and not just with voters of the Republican variety. Romney’s ability to craft an identifiable personality over the course of the primaries will go a long way in determining his chances of beating Obama later this year.


Who is the real Mitt Romney?

  1. Parisella mis-identifies the nature of Mitt Romney’s flip-flopping. Romney comes off as an in-genuine conservative, which has been a modest problem for him in the Republican primary. But should he survive the primary (and he is the prohibitive favourite), being an ingenuine conservative would be an asset at reaching centrist voters. I mean do you really believe that Romney…
    -is a bigtime varmint hunter?
    -cares about illegal immigration (for Pete’s sake)
    -didn’t think Romneycare was a good idea

    Along that vein for an extremist candidate, like say Ron Paul, consistency is hardly a virtue. It is fairly believable that Ron Paul would try to gouge spending and dismantle the Federal Reserve. The problem is that those positions are not likely to fly in an election. Or you can think about John Kerry. Yes, Kerry being labeled as a flip-flopper helped the Bush campaign. But that nature of his flip-flopping mattered. Because Kerry had been for the war in Iraq, it limited his ability to criticize Bush on the war, which by 2004 had become unpopular. 
    The basic point is that all flip-flops are not equal, and some can be an asset to a candidate – if the flip-flop convinces voters that the candidate is more electable.

  2. (what is more, the Bain Capital attack is by far the more potentially powerful, especially in the general election: 
    http://www.kingofbain.com/ )

  3. The problem, I think, is that a lot of conservatives are likely to stay home rather than vote for Romney.  I mean, given the choice between two insincere men with little interest in fixing the social issues that should matter most, better to plan on getting someone significantly better in 2016.

    So then the question for not-so-conservative Republicans is this:  will the undecided voters Romney pulls in due to his ill-defined positions outnumber the conservatives who are driven away?  If so, he’s their man.  If not, they’d better throw their weight behind someone who will pull conservatives to the polls.

    • But Romney doesn’t need to make a positive case for himself, he can simply not be Obama. Obama’s approval among Republicans is currently about 11%, among the lowest of any Democrat in the history of polling (Obama is about as popular among Republicans as Nixon was for Democrats post-Watergate): 

      Alternately look at exit polling data on Conservatives as a % of the electorate. If Conservatives tend to sit out elections when moderates win, we should see them decline as a % of the electorate in years when a moderate is the nominee. However, a cursory glance below will show that this isn’t the case.

      Conservatives as a % of the electorate have not been lower when the nominee was moderate – they may even have been higher, on average. 
      1976: 31% (M – Ford)
      1980: 28% (C – Reagan)
      1984: 33% (C – Reagan)
      1988: 33% (M – Bush sr.)
      1992: 30% (M – Bush sr.)
      1996: 34% (M – Dole)
      2000: 29% (C – Bush)
      2004: 34% (C – Bush)
      2008: 34% (M – McCain)

      • Thanks for the data. You make a good point, but notice that the percentage tends to be low for nominees initially thought to be milquetoast (Reagan, Bush Jr.) and higher once they’ve proven their worth.  The exception is McCain – I don’t know how to reconcile that one; no one was under any illusions about his lack of principle.  My guess is that they turned out for Palin instead.

        Anyway, I think the question remains an open one as to whether a nominee like Romney would pull in more than he drives away.

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