Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Free Ad Space For Romney?

Today the New York Times offers an editorial by Dean Barnett, who speaks about how unfair it is to depict Romney as a flip-flopper, and how his wonderful political skills put him head-and-shoulders above every other candidate. Oops - wrong link. I somehow got today's column confused with something Barnett wrote a year ago. That was then:
THE OFT-REPEATED CHARGE AGAINST MITT ROMNEY IS THAT HE’S A FLIP-FLOPPER and an opportunist. As someone who knows him and who is familiar with his character, it annoys me no end to see Romney’s detractors so relentlessly peddle such an inaccurate caricature. ...

The fact is, Mitt Romney will have enough money and enough political skill to define himself when the time is right. The fact that the hostile factions of the press will no longer be relevant when that time comes is a wonderful bonus.
This is now:
I often marvel at how the public perception of Mr. Romney differs so radically from the man I know. The blame for this lies in the campaign he has run.

Early in the presidential race, Mr. Romney perceived a tactical advantage in becoming the campaign’s social conservative. Religious conservatives and other Republicans with socially conservative views found the two early front-runners, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, unacceptable. As someone who shares the beliefs of social conservatives, Mr. Romney saw an opportunity that he could exploit. He made social issues the heart of his candidacy.

This tack rang false with the public because it was false. The problem wasn’t so much the perception of widespread “flip-flopping” on issues like abortion. The public allows its politicians a measure of flexibility. But the public correctly sensed something disingenuous about Mr. Romney’s campaign.
While Barnett now concedes that Romney was running "a campaign that tried to exploit wedge issues rather than focus on the issues that in truth most interested the candidate", he wants to have it both ways. He insists that "Mr. Romney cares passionately about social issues". Not too many people are perceived as phonies when they speak about their passions. With all due respect to the "measure of flexibility" the public may offer a political candidate, Romney's diametric changes of heart on pretty much every major social issue should be explained by more than what comes across to me as "That was then, this is now."
I know few voters will believe this, but Mitt Romney wants to be president out of a sense of duty. He feels our government needs someone with his managerial skills.
Ah yes... he sees our desperate need for an "MBA President".
He also feels that to fight the long war facing us, we need an intellectually curious president who’s willing to learn about an unfamiliar foe and who will fight resolutely to defeat that foe.
I'm sorry... I guess that would be an intellectually curious MBA President.

I love this part:
This past weekend, Romney-distrusting portions of the conservative blogosphere kicked up a fuss over seven words Mr. Romney said to volunteers who were dialing for dollars at a fund-raising event last week: “Make all the promises you have to.”

Without knowing the context, it’s impossible to know precisely what Mr. Romney meant.
Mr. Barnett - Mitt Romney appears to be your friend. You've known him for years. You're one of his biggest supporters. You're defending him in the New York Times.... Did it occur to you to pick up a phone and ask him what he meant?
But for voters who have learned to distrust Mr. Romney, the comment probably sounded a lot like, “Tell whatever lies are necessary.”

The Mitt Romney I know would never say such a thing. But the Mitt Romney I know is sadly unrecognizable to today’s voters.
If I were defending a candidate in a similar context and truly didn't know what he meant, I would probably suggest that it was "wry humor" - where else can you go with a comment like that? Isn't Barnett's "defense" starting to sound a bit like, "Governor, I served with Mitt Romney, I knew Mitt Romney, Mitt Romney was a friend of mine. Governor, you are no Mitt Romney"?

I will concede this - the public perception of Mitt Romney is a caricature. Some aspects of a caricature are inevitably unfair or grossly exaggerated. The problem for Romney, as Barnett now concedes, is that the caricature was built upon a foundation that is true, and thus it sticks and resonates with voters.

A year ago Mr. Barnett opined,
When the press is all punched out, Romney will have $100 million and his own formidable political skills available to make his rebuttal. ... The fact is, Mitt Romney will have enough money and enough political skill to define himself when the time is right.
I hope Mr. Romney does well enough in Michigan today that he gets the opportunity to introduce the public to the real Mitt Romney.
Not that I want to second-guess his campaign, but perhaps the time for Mr. Romney to introduce himself was yesterday. Or perhaps even earlier.

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