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Mitt Romney: Conservative Trojan Horse or Political Chameleon?

What became of Mitt Romney the “severe conservative” who so assured the American right earlier this year that he had long since slipped his moorings to a moderate political past in Massachusetts? Surely a “severely conservative” Mitt Romney wasn’t the guy who showed up to debate Barack Obama on the 3rd of October. Apparently this “pivot to the center” was widely observed but not universally accepted:

Jonathan Chait:

Tonight’s debate saw the return of the Mitt Romney who ran for office in Massachusetts in 1994 and 2002. He was obsessive about portraying himself as a moderate, using every possible opening or ambiguity — and, when necessary, making them up — to shove his way to the center. Why he did not attempt to restore this pose earlier, I cannot say. Maybe he can only do it in debates. Or maybe conservatives had to reach a point of absolute desperation over his prospects before they would give him the ideological space. In any case, he dodged almost every point in the right wing canon in a way that seemed to catch Obama off guard.

Conservative columnist David Brooks wrote of the contrast between the rhetoric of the Republican primaries and Romney the debater:

The G.O.P. did its best to appear unattractive. It had trouble talking the language of compassion. It seemed to regard reasonable political compromise as an act of dishonor. It offered little for struggling Americans except that government would leave them alone…on Wednesday night, Romney finally emerged from the fog. He broke with the stereotypes of his party and, at long last, began the process of offering a more authentic version of himself…Far from being an individualistic, social Darwinist, Romney spoke comfortably about compassion and shared destinies…Far from wanting to eviscerate government and railing about government dependency, Romney talked about how to make government programs work better…Far from being an unthinking deregulator, Romney declared, ‘Regulation is essential’ … Most important, Romney did something no other mainstream Republican has had the guts to do. Either out of conviction or political desperation, he broke with Tea Party orthodoxy and began to redefine the Republican identity.

MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell:

This move to the center, there’s no complaint from conservatives. Is it that they are so eager to defeat President Obama that they, right now, say, anything that works is okay with them?

Conservative columnist Ross Douthat:

What Romney executed on Wednesday night was not just a simple pivot to the center, as much of the post-debate analysis suggested. Pivot he certainly did — stressing bipartisanship and touting his record as the moderate governor of a liberal state, backing away from the more implausible spending cuts implied by his budget promises, explicitly breaking with the idea that upper-bracket tax cuts can be a self-financing free lunch.

Time Magazine’s Mark Halperin:

Is the ‘new’ Mitt Romney going to be on offer through Election Day, or might he backslide?

The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein:

Romney’s policies might be steeped in tea, but last night, he proved his political skills were honed in Massachusetts…the question the debates raised is which Romney voters will be choosing if they mark his name on the ballot. The Romney who endorsed the House Republican budget and chose its author as his running mate? Or the Romney who seemed to have no use for the Ryan budget and barely mentioned his running mate? The Romney who wants to cut $7 trillion from the budget over the next decade? Or the Romney who won’t name any spending cuts beyond PBS? The Romney who says he wants to give every state the opportunity to do what Massachusetts did in health care, which would mean handing over quite a bit in federal funding to fund those efforts, just as the federal government funded Massachusetts’ efforts? Or the Romney whose health-care plan spans less than 400 words and includes no plausible mechanisms by which other states could copy Massachusetts’ success? The Romney who talks movingly of bipartisan compromise? Or the Romney who says he wouldn’t accept a $1 in tax increases even if paired with $10 in spending cuts?

Doyle McManus of the L.A. Times:

A closer look suggests that Romney’s move toward the center is a matter of tone and emphasis more than substance…Romney took a half-step toward the center, a move dictated by the needs of a faltering presidential campaign. But it didn’t change his core positions; he’s still a conservative.

William Kristol of the Weekly Standard:

The Romney campaign has to frame what happened last night as a template for the rest of the campaign—for a serious and sustained critique of the Obama presidency and of what another four years of Obama’s policies would mean, and for a continuing clear presentation of what Romney would do instead.

Thus what are the remaining undecided and wavering Obama supporters supposed to conclude? Was last week’s debate performance a stealth “Etch-a-Sketch” moment representing a legitimate recalibration of Romney’s political compass bringing him back to his own political true north? Or was it just the latest example of a Romney flip flop conceived as a desperate tactic designed to stop his slide in the polls? Was it neither but instead a well thought out deception with Romney promoting a political Trojan Horse to voters, hoping that they’d accept his dubious gift without question or further examination, and in so doing buy him just enough good will to get elected and where thereafter he could launch a ultra-conservative agenda?

What I found to be most interesting in reviewing the articles and commentary of ten of America’s foremost conservative columnists and pundits, from William Kristol to Sean Hannity – referenced below, is that collectively they spent little time analyzing or contrasting Romney’s policy positions with those of Obama. Instead they devoted most of their comments to the ephemeral celebrating Romney’s debate victory while at the same time denigrating the president for aspects of his personal demeanor, preparation and body language. Is this a result of their unwillingness to believe that Romney’s debate performance represents a dramatic departure from the conservative orthodoxy that so many of them cherish so dearly or do those same columnists and pundits truly believe that Mitt Romney is at the very least, their fellow traveler? Beyond the chattering classes what are conservatives to believe about the degree to which Mitt Romney is really one of them?

After all Mitt Romney’s been running for the past eighteen months against much of what he himself has stood for across the arc of his own political career. Moreover do what conservatives believe now even matter? It could be the case that conservatives may have so compromised their principles in backing Romney, due to their obsessive focus on making Barack Obama a one term president, that they’ve effectively mortgaged much of their political future. Why, because they could act as enablers in the election of a candidate who is hardly a “severe conservative” when what they should have done was to promote a true conservative in what they believe to be is their election to lose.

Personally I believe that Mitt Romney is a man so set on becoming president that he’ll say whatever it takes to get the votes he needs to do so and thus he’s a political chameleon. He’s a man with a knack for tailoring his remarks to the particular audience at hand so let’s be honest about one thing, Romney’s not called “multiple choice Mitt” for nothing. What Mitt Romney is not is a staunch conservative sitting inside a Trojan Horse who’ll emerge after his inauguration to surprise America with a radically right-wing agenda. Why, because Romney knows that that’s not politically where the country is so to go in that direction would only bake failure into his own political future and that’s not something a smart politician would do. If Romney is elected he’ll have no choice but to tack to the center in an attempt to govern a nation that is roughly split politically right down the middle. He’s going to have to jettison most his faux conservative trappings unless he wants to cripple his own administration from the outset thereby guaranteeing that he himself is a one term president. I hardly think that Mitt Romney sees himself in terms of what the anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist desires in a president, a guy who doesn’t really need to think for himself but who “only needs enough functioning digits” to sign what a hoped for Tea Party dominated Congress puts before him. If Romney becomes the next president he could turn out to be a major disappointment for conservatives, one that would send them back to the wilderness in what would be yet another round of soul searching as to what should constitute the core of conservative thought in the 21st Century.

Steven J. Gulitti


Entering Stage Right, Romney Moved to Center;

Jonathan Chait – The Return of Massachusetts Mitt;

David Brooks – Moderate Mitt Returns!;

Andrea Mitchell – Romney Right and Romney Center;

Ross Douthat – It Could Be His Party;

Mark Halperin – What I’m Wondering Now:

Ezra Klein – Romney was a moderate in the debate. But would he be a moderate as president?;

Doyle McManus – Moderate Mitt? Don’t count on it;,0,5641895.column

William Kristol – The Beginning of the End?;

Byron York – Team Obama struggles as Romney wins big;

George Will – Romney hits a trifecta in Denver;

Michael Barone – Thoughts on the first presidential debate;

Michael Barone – Barone: Romney’s debate win opens cracks in Obama fire wall;

Jonah Goldberg – It Was the Altitude!;

Charles Krauthammer – Romney by two touchdowns;

Michelle Malkin – Denver debate: Romney took control;

Michelle Malkin – Chris Matthews blasts president’s tingle-free debate performance;

Rich Lowry – Romney’s Big Night;

Rich Lowry – The Mitt We’ve Been Waiting For;

Rich Lowry – News Flash: Debate Was Beneath Obama;

Hugh Hewitt – Mark Steyn’s Debate Reaction;

Sean Hannity – What were your favorite debate moments?;

Sean Hannity – Exclusive: Romney and Ryan react to first presidential debate;

The Republican Journey in the Wilderness;

The Challenge of a New Morning in America;

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I am a resident of N.Y.C., and a political independent. I hold two college degrees: SUNY Buffalo (BA) and University of Illinois (MA) as well as a Professional Certificate from NYU. I am a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve where I am still serving as a reserve commissioned Warrant Officer. I am member of the International Labor Communications Association, a member of the Iron Workers Union and a sometimes- freelance writer that has been published in some minor and professional venues.