Politics & Policy

If It Doesn’t Kill Us, It May Make Mitt Stronger

Romney shows a little leadership leg.

This has not been a particularly proud few weeks for the West. Iran essentially declared victory in the hostage standoff with Britain. Before Harry Reid was declaring the war in Iraq lost, the U.S. Speaker of the House has been staking out her own foreign policy, visiting Syria — a.k.a. Iran’s best friend — and raising the possibility of going to Iran next.

But others’ missteps may prove to be opportunities for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, currently running for the GOP nomination for president. After a few months of commentators’ and activists’ wondering if he stood for anything beyond the politically advantageous, Romney may have just come into his own as a statesman.

We’ve seen glimpses of this Romney before. Last September, he refused to provide state security for former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami. “State taxpayers should not be providing special treatment to an individual who supports violent jihad and the destruction of Israel,” Romney said.

We saw it again earlier this month, when Romney said, “Washington is a broken place right now, dysfunctional in some respects, which has been evidenced by the trip by Nancy Pelosi to Syria, but also evidenced by the failure to deal with overspending.” Romney made the comments at a news conference in the Iowa statehouse, even as Pelosi met with Syrian president Bashar Assad in Damascus over White House objections, and as President Bush and the Democratic congressional majority struggled over the Iraq War. Democrats want to include in a war-spending bill a date for U.S. troop withdrawal. Bush has threatened to veto any measure that includes a timetable.

“I’m going to suggest that the Democrats in Washington provide the funding necessary to support the foreign policy which is established by the president of the United States. It is not up to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to dictate to the commanders in the field or to the commander in chief,” Romney said.

He followed those comments up with a speech at the George H. W. Bush presidential library in Texas — not only supporting President Bush’s current troop-surge policy in Iraq, but calling for increased spending on the U.S. military.

In first-quarter fundraising reports, Romney came out in front among Republicans in the race. Even faced with real and perceived obstacles–the “flip-flopper” label he’s earned for a list of issues he’s changed his mind on over the years, and the fact that he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (which is expected by many to be an issue with evangelical voters and others) — polls in states like New Hampshire and South Carolina suggest he’s making progress.

“I think many of us still fail to comprehend the extent of the threat posed by radical Islam, by Jihad. Understandably, we focus on Afghanistan and Iraq. Our men and women are dying there. We think in terms of countries, because we faced countries in last century’s conflicts. But the Jihad is much broader than any one nation or nations. For radical Islam, there is one conflict and one goal — replacing all modern Islamic states with a caliphate, destroying America and conquering the world.”

That’s not exactly the most popular campaign talk, but it’s leader talk. And what our country, at war, increasingly forgetting why and how, needs to hear. It’s why there’s an enthusiasm among conservatives for not-yet-running Fred Thompson — one of his radio commentaries recently highlighted the bravery of Aayan Hirsi Ali, “Infidel.” The more straight leadership talk in the mix, the better. This is war afterall.

Maybe money changes everything: After the fundraising numbers came in, the big-gun mainstream-media types started to really pay attention. Today’s Matt Lauer interviewed Romney the next morning – in a top-of-the-show slot reserved for newsmakers and leaders.

Then again, maybe not quite everything? By that week’s end he was back in a flip-flopping story line about the Second Amendment and his hunting prowess. But money does provide opportunities — an opening to show a little leadership leg. 

Mitt Romney — a successful businessman, savior of the Olympics (which he ran in Salt Lake), and one-term Republican governor in a northeastern state–may not be the most obvious Republican choice for commander-in-chief. For his stalwart defense of the “surge,” and the war in Iraq since the beginning — not to mention his Vietnam heroism — John McCain may seem like a more obvious choice. But listen to the way Romney’s been talking lately, and that may change. There’s a lot to hear between today and the first primary. And if world events–and Nancy Pelosi and Harry ”War Is Lost” Reid – don’t kill us, they may just make Mitt stronger.

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