Mitt Romney’s Regeneration
How the GOP will settle for him


Christian Schneider

In 1972, Brazilian biologist Francisco Varela introduced the concept of “autopoiesis,” which explains the process by which cells regenerate and replace themselves. According to the theory, human cells die and are replaced; so every ten years or so, you are literally an entirely different person than you were before. So if you called your car-insurance company to tell them the speeding ticket you got in 1998 wasn’t you, you’d actually be right.

Seeing as how I’m reaching the end of my 30s, I figure I’m due a new body. I hope model 4.0 will be taller and skinnier; if it’s 4G capable, that would be awesome, too. Yet there’s one thing I find problematic about my impending new self: It will be supporting Mitt Romney for president.

This galls Current Me. My dissatisfaction with Romney mirrors that of many conservatives who recognize his long history as a political chameleon. As a kid, I remember the cartoon He-Man confusing me; He-Man and his alter-ego, Prince Adam, looked exactly alike, just wearing different clothes. And yet none of the citizens of Eternia figured it out. Apparently, Mitt Romney thinks in order to disassociate himself from his past political life, he just has to wear a different suit and say the word “Reagan” enough.

But we’ve figured it out. The list is well traveled: This Mitt is the same one who supported TARP; the same one who instituted an Obama-style individual mandate requiring Massachusetts residents to purchase health care; who supported “cap and trade,” assault-weapons bans, and Roe v. Wade.

His puerile attacks on Rick Perry for asserting that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme” were as confusing as Perry’s awkward attempts to explain his position. Romney slammed Perry for allowing the children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition, despite Latinos’ making up 38 percent of Texas’s population — yet all of Romney’s erstwhile liberal positions clearly represented naked political opportunism of an equal order.

Yet Romney is almost a lead-pipe lock to be the GOP presidential nominee in 2012. His titanium chin has plowed its way through the Republican presidential field, making otherwise good candidates occasionally seem amateurish.

And while many of Romney’s positions have “evolved” based on the office for which he is running, many of them have stayed strong throughout. In their 2007 endorsement of Romney, the National Review editors pointed out that in 1994, when he tried to unseat Ted Kennedy, “he ran against higher taxes and government-run health care, and for school choice, a balanced budget amendment, welfare reform, and ‘tougher measures to stop illegal immigration.’”

Romney’s campaigning skills have improved markedly from his first presidential run in 2008; he is currently the only candidate plausible enough to share the stage with Barack Obama in 2012. Not only are his currently held convictions right; if he were actually to make it through the primary, his past liberal positions could make him more appealing to out-of-work Democrats who are looking for a safe home.

And while Romney may not be the ideal candidate, he may just be ideal enough to win. As the old saying goes, when being chased by a bear, you don’t have to necessarily be fast — you just have to be faster than one other guy. The good news for Romney is that he’d be running against an incumbent whose approval rating is slightly lower than that of paper cuts. And this bear economy may just devour Obama as Romney jogs across the finish line.

In 2011, Republicans are sitting at the end of the bar, and it’s 2 a.m. Ryan and Christie have already gone home, and the GOP is looking for someone to keep it company. As Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself for Loving You” plays, Mitt winks at them from the other end of the bar. Right now, he’s the best the GOP has; how the night turns out is yet to be seen.

In 2012, I will be writing breathlessly about how America will be engulfed in flames should Mitt Romney not be elected president. I will write endlessly about his infallibility and his impeccable conservative credentials. But thanks to science, I can be forgiven. It won’t be me.

— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.