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 Roe v. 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.
On these and other issues, my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru makes the case that Romney is not someone conservatives should be reluctant to support. “It’s true that Romney took a sharp right turn when he moved from state to national politics. But it’s also true that in 2008 he was the candidate behind whom Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, among other conservative notables, said that the conservative movement should rally in order to stop John McCain from getting the nomination. He has not moved left since that time. His positions on policy questions are almost all the same as they were then. On a few issues he has moved right: He now favors a market-oriented reform to Medicare, for example.”
Ramesh adds: “If Romney was to McCain’s right then, he is still. He’s to George W. Bush’s right, too. Bush never came out for the Medicare reform Romney has endorsed. Bush never said that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, either. Romney has. Romney’s long list of policy advisers includes people who are, within their fields, roughly in sync with the politics of the Bush administration or to its right; almost nobody is significantly to its left.”
Whatever conservatives think of the state of Romney’s ideological soul, if he has a Speaker Boehner and a Majority Leader McConnell, he will get the chance to do a lot of the things he says he wants to do. We are a country that is deeply disappointed and distressed that Washington doesn’t seem to work right. Romney might just head up a Washington that can get things accomplished.
I don’t know how many people made it to the end of that “bad interview” last Tuesday, but Romney’s winning message was actually on display there. When Baier asked him what exactly his vision is, Romney gave a response that will, I suspect, resonate with many Americans — conservatives and independents who are concerned about how America will look in years to come, and about what they are leaving their children and grandchildren, personally and generationally. “It’s going to be middle-class in America again,” Romney said, “where people have the conviction that the future is brighter than the past. America has to be strong, with strong culture, with a strong economy, and a military that’s second to none. And we’re losing faith in those things.” He added: “I want to make America stronger again. America will be a stronger nation with freedom and opportunity as we’ve enjoyed in our past.”
Romney presents himself to voters as a serial turnaround artist: a businessman who has taken problems and created opportunity, success, and — that desperately welcome word — jobs. Sounds like the kind of guy you’d send to D.C. right about now, doesn’t he?
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through United Media.