Renowned ex-liberal Mitt Romney, bleeding support in Iowa and New Hampshire as unsatisfied Republicans continue to grope around in the dark for their next Great White Hope, has come out swinging against a suddenly resurgent John McCain:
Romney fired away at McCain, repeatedly accusing the Arizona senator of failing "Reagan 101" by voting twice against Bush administration tax cuts. Romney also said McCain's past support for allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the United States and work toward legal status amounted to amnesty.
I find it especially interesting that Romney invokes the grading system in Reagan 101. I never took the class myself, opting instead to take US History 210: It’s Always Clinton’s Fault. But I have to believe that Romney himself surely failed Introductory Reagan, given that he disavowed the legacy of Reagan-Bush when campaigning in 1994, taking particular pains to underscore the fact that he was an independent during the 1980s, not a Reagan Republican. Here’s a classic ad from the Log Cabin Republicans from Romney’s U.S. Senate campaign:
Pretty nice ad, no? I love it. "For years he's fought conservatives"..."Massachusetts values"..."I don't line up with the NRA"...fabulous stuff.
But I think
"I was an independent during Reagan-Bush...I'm not trying to return to Reagan-Bush"
is my favorite part.
Straight from the horse's mouth, too.
It’s worth remembering, too, that when Reagan’s handpicked successor, George Bush the Elder, was on the ballot in 1992, Romney opted to vote in the Democratic primary, for Paul Tsongas. He also donated that year to three Democrats (Dick Swett, John LaFalce, and Utah Senate candidate Doug Anderson).
So I’m having a very tough time accepting Mitt Romney as a committed Reaganite. So, apparently, are others...
McCain senior adviser Mark Salter shot back: "Welcome to Mitt Romney's bizarro world, in which everyone is guilty of his sins. He didn't support Ronald Reagan. He didn't support President Bush's tax cuts. ... New Hampshire is onto you, Mitt."
Seriously, though, practically every candidate, particularly those with presidential aspirations, will adapt his or her campaign rhetoric to some degree in order to better appeal to the electorate; almost everyone will show some willingness to move on some key issues in order to maximize their electoral viability. That’s standard operating procedure. We know that.
But I do not think I have ever seen a candidate who has moved so far, so quickly, so shamelessly and so cynically across the political spectrum as Mitt Romney. I say "cynically" because that's what it is; it should be painfully obvious to anyone with clear political vision that Romney's political conversion was borne out of nothing so much as pure calculation. He thought he could win as a conservative, so he became one. If he thought he could win as a pirate, he would have become a pirate.
I suspect that conservatives know, in their heart of hearts, that Romney is not one of them. It is why Romney, despite all his advantages, has still not been able to break out of the Republican field, and why Romney is still in grave danger of losing the nomination to McCain or Huckabee.
Yet a good portion of the Republican electorate, it seems, is perfectly willing to forget all about Mitt Romney 1.0 and Mitt Romney 2.0, paying attention solely to the handsome guy in front of them who says all the right things. They’ll buy the new Romney. They’ll buy his bullshit about his conservative come-to-Reagan moment of revelation, because they really do hate all their other options that much.
It’s striking to see; their conservative purity has painted them into a corner where nobody is acceptable, everybody’s compromised for some reason, so the only option left is to take a telegenic guy, ignore practically everything he has done or said in public life, and delude themselves into thinking he is one of them.
This is not surprising; given that the Republican party has based its political coalition on fear and deception, it was perhaps inevitable that there would come a time when they were forced to deceive themselves into embracing a thoroughly compromised and undesirable candidate (based on their own frenzied fear of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama).
Perhaps Huckabee or McCain will win the nomination (they are teaming up to get rid of Romney), and the Republicans’ willful ignorance and self-delusion will not be so starkly obvious.
But if Mitt Romney does wind up as the GOP candidate, it will be an immensely revealing election for those who had the gall to deride John Kerry as a flip-flopper.