Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Republican Base Didn't Make Romney What He Is

Stop me if you've heard this one before.
A scorpion asks a turtle to carry him across a river....
Yeah, you got it, the scorpion stings turtle even though he's dooming himself to drown, and gives the excuse, "it's in my nature".

Tod Kelly's comments on the Republican base brought that allegory to mind:
When the smoke clears, will the Republican base recognize their hand in sabotaging Romney’s chances? Or will they put all the blame on Mitt himself, and decide that alienating even more of the center is the key to future victories?
The thing is, the base didn't sabotage Romney. They chose Romney. To the extent that Romney's unforced errors can be deemed the consequence of his "working his ass off to make sure that the base of his own party is willing to vote for him in November", that's what they choice over candidates who were more consistent in their beliefs and less inclined to profess heartfelt changes of mind every time the polls suggested that their former views were unpopular with the base.

You can blame the voters for choosing a candidate like Mitt Romney, but you can't blame them for his being what he is: The cipher who takes every side of pretty much every issue. Romney has deliberately made himself a cipher, a guy who has both sides explaining away his more radical positions, past and present, as his "saying what he has (or had) to say to get elected," and applying that rationalization by ignoring his actual statements and ascribing to him positions much more in line with their own. Mitt Romney did not suddenly become that person over the course of the past year. That's the person he's always been.

It's true that if Mitt Romney weren't that person, he almost certainly would not have been nominated. But compare Jeb Bush who is, by all appearances, laying the groundwork for a White House bid in 2016. The voters chose Romney but, at least in this sense, he's a self-made man.

Update: Paul Waldman observes,
As I've maintained for some time, for all intents and purposes there is no "real" Mitt Romney. His political beliefs are the equivalent of Schrodinger's cat. They exist in every state at once until you open the box to observe them. If the one opening the box is a Tea Partier, they instantly lock into place as a set of Tea Party beliefs; if it's a bunch of GOP plutocrats staring down, that's whose beliefs he'll mirror. Romney has spent the last five years in an intensive period of study, with his subject the contemporary American conservative mind in all its permutations. He's well aware that the misleading talking point about 47 percent of Americans not paying taxes gets repeated all the time on the right, in private and public. What he was telling the people in that room is what he tells any group of people he speaks to. His message was, in Christine O'Donnell's immortal words, "I'm you."
Waldman challenges his readers, "show me an instance in which Mitt Romney tells a group of people something they don't want to hear".

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