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.