Mitt Romney did something oddly appropriate during an interview last week with Fox News host Bret Baier: He got peeved.
While I wouldn’t advise other candidates to try this in their own campaigns, it showed an emotional side of a candidate routinely caricatured as a robot, and tapped into the frustration a lot of people have with politics.
Romney’s campaign has been, in many ways, a thankless task so far. He does everything he is “supposed” to do — and typically does it well — and yet he has remained second in the polls behind a parade of frontrunners. Not only that, but this 64-year-old grandfather who has lived an upstanding family, business, political, and community life repeatedly hears that he’s a “weathervane.” It is no wonder that Romney looked as if he’d rather be home with his wife drinking a cup of hot chocolate than doing another interview about the campaign. This year the pre-primary game has become a sort of X Factor competition for the guy everyone wants to have a beer with. Stick to the script and stay on pitch, and you won’t get voted off by the chattering class this week. It’s not exactly the best way to determine who will make the best commander-in-chief.
As to the weathervane charge, while Romney has in fact changed some of his positions over the years on some significant issues, these changes should be welcomed both by conservatives seeking a Republican candidate and by discerning general-election voters. Less a flipper than a responsible executive, he found himself faced with new scenarios and reacted to them in a studied way.
During his first shot at the Republican nomination in 2008, he presented conservatives with his changed position on abortion. For him, he explained, the cloning debate had been instructive. Eyes glazed over, as if he had said “moot set.” His testimony wasn’t delivered with quite the passion that regulars at the conservative revival tents would typically display. But such showiness wouldn’t be him. Romney’s position might actually contain the authenticity we say we want; going for the swoon would not.
Romney has said that he came to realize that “the Roev.Wade mentality has so cheapened the value of human life that rational people saw human life as mere research material to be used, then destroyed.” His conversion story reflects where we are in history. Roe v.Wade indeed has had a dehumanizing effect on our lives. Just recently in the New York Times Magazine, a woman explained the relative ease with which she “selectively reduced” one of her unborn twins: “The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.” Even with the best of intentions, when we turn human life into just another choice in the marketplace, we will find ourselves in a Brave New World.
As governor, Romney confrontedboth Harvard’s attempt to push taxpayer-funded human cloning and embryonic-stem-cell research on the state of Massachusetts (it needed government funding because private investors have long known that these are bad ideas) and the judicial tyranny exercised by the top Massachusetts court in redefining the institution of marriage. Neither of Romney’s stands looked like a brilliant maneuver to position him for the 2008 Iowa caucus (and they evidently weren’t, given that Mike Huckabee won that caucus). But Romney was presented with problems and found himself fighting battles that many other politicians and voters hadn’t yet had to confront.