More than four years ago we were told that Romney was the next best thing to sliced bread, and almost four years ago we were promised that he would soon introduce himself.
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.Astonishing, that much time has passed and the time still is not right.
What record can we point to, that would suggest how Romney would run a country? His extraordinarily privileged youth and time at Harvard? His career as a corporate raider? His brief tenure as governor of Massachusetts, during which time he finessed the outcome of health insurance reform to produce what, by all appearances, he thought could be the centerpiece of a later run for President? The way he "got out of Dodge" rather than, one might infer, risking having his name attached to additional legislation or economic developments that might harm him in a presidential bid? His subsequent years of self-described unemployment, during which time he appears to have done little but prepare for another run for the Republican nomination while spouting economic and foreign-policy nonsense mostly to tell us who he is not (we now know he's not President Obama, Gov. Perry, or Ron Paul, but beyond that...) as opposed to defining who he is.
Simply put, Romney is a man who wants to be President and wants to succeed as President, with "success" being pretty much synonym for "reelected". We can get a big picture sense of what that means by looking at past Presidents, Romney's own waffling, and the latest opinion poll results, but I suspect the best way to know what Romney stands for is going to almost always be whatever the latest polls suggest will get him elected, reelected, or gain him huge contributions for the Mitt Romney Presidential Library.
The sad part is, I suspect that Mitt Romney is a lot smarter than the guy who he plays on television, and there's a chance he even has some meaningful insights he could share about the nation and the world. (There's also a chance that all he's ever cared about is making money, which would mean that he should exit stage left and go back into business.) The reality is, were Mitt Romney to introduce himself, "the real Mitt Romney", it would likely end the assertion that he's "the most electable candidate". After all, if he believed that he would "electable" once his true face and politics hit the headlines, he would have introduced himself many years ago.
Update: Paul Waldman argues that "there is no 'real' Mitt Romney".
All of this is to say that any hope or dread (depending on your perspective) that the "real" Mitt Romney is more moderate than the current Republican primary version is not so much incorrect as misconceived. One can presume that somewhere underneath all that calculation there are firmly held beliefs, but what they are is not all that important. The Mitt Romney who is president, just like the Mitt Romney we see today, will act according to the incentives with which he is presented and what he fears. The result will be a presidency reflecting today's Republican Party, which is to say an extremely conservative one.