By Bob Shrum
So Mitt Romney, who couldn’t have been reelected governor of Massachusetts, is running for president. And that’s one reason he couldn’t have been reelected. To cater to Republican primary voters nationally, he decided to get right with the right wing canon. He not only became a crusader against same sex marriage, but adjured his previous professions, in 1994 and again in 2002, that he was pro-choice. It recalls the comment of Ted Kennedy, who defeated him in the 1994 senate race, that Romney was “multiple choice.” The reason he may get away with his transmogrification is that the right wing can credit the notion that this Romney apparition is probably closer to his true self than the moderate clothes he conveniently donned to run for office in Massachusetts. In the general election, however, it would be pushing things for him to raise the age limit on the George W. Bush excuse and say he found his true self at the age of…50.
Romney is the remainder man of the Republican race, the one to have once conservatives realize that dwarf stars like Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore are dim possibilities. This also assumes, of course, that John McCain, who’s been busily engaged in some base licking of his own, can’t overcome the doubts about him by cozying up to Jerry Falwell. If McCain falters, Romney will be there as the plausible alternative. But in a straight-up choice between them, McCain has the advantage. He’s not only a genuine career-long social conservative—a truth obscured by the sliming he took from the Bush campaign in 2000 – he’s also the next in line, steadily drawing Bush operatives and fundraisers to his side, in a party that nominates by primogeniture and increasingly regards McCain as both acceptable enough to the base and electable enough in the country to hold the White House in 2008.
Romney the repentant moderate is probably a more authentic incarnation than Bush the compassionate conservative. I believe Romney means it and no moderate or progressive could happily look forward to his presidency. Ironically, he can claim one real achievement as governor, a progressive one: a healthcare plan to cover all the citizens of his state, although here too he tried to have it both ways and the legislature had to override his veto of the modest tax on business essential to the plan’s solvency. In the end, his best realistic hope is probably the vice-presidential nod—that politically McCain is a latter day version of Ronald Reagan with Romney playing the role of the first George Bush, capable of adding an element of comparative youth to the GOP ticket. It would have helped, though, if, as the former chairman of the 2002 Winter Games in Utah, he had kept the Olympic torch and used it to light a bonfire of his past statements, for example that he was more pro-gay rights than Ted Kennedy.