2012 Tuesday: One case (sort of) for Mitt Romney

Here is a case for Mitt Romney, albeit one I don’t expect his campaign to make. And make note of this caveat from the beginning: This post is not an endorsement, only food for thought.

We all know by now one of the conservative knocks on Romney: When campaigning for offices in Massachusetts, he often professed squishy-to-outright-liberal positions on such issues as abortion, guns, gay rights, taxes and immigration, only later to adopt far more conservative positions on those same issues once he decided to run for president. Reverse course on one issue — as Ronald Reagan did regarding abortion — and you can claim a genuine change of heart. Do it on a number of issues, and you get labeled an untrustworthy flip-flopper.

We also know by now one of the other other conservative knocks on Romney: While serving as governor and working with a liberal legislature, he actually acted on some of these squishy-to-outright-liberal positions. His health reform is of course the most prominent example. (Spare me the talking point that some conservatives once favored an individual mandate to purchase health insurance; every time Romney describes his reform as something that was “right for Massachusetts” and still popular there, he is acknowledging that, on the whole, it was a liberal reform for a liberal state.)

So, from a purely cynical standpoint: If the argument is that conservatives can’t trust Romney because he once advocated liberal positions, shouldn’t we also consider that he did act on those liberal positions — and might also be likely to act, alongside a conservative Congress, on the conservative positions he now advocates?

In other words, if we assume Romney will say anything to get elected — and then do what he said so that he can be re-elected — why not assume he will act mostly conservatively if elected president?

Again, that’s not a very high-minded way to look at him, which is one reason his campaign probably won’t make such a case.

But every time I hear or see people referring to Romney’s flip-flopping, I can’t help but think that he didn’t flip-flop until after he decided to leave state office and run for national office. He essentially did then, in Massachusetts, what he’d said he would do then and there. So, even if you believe Romney speaks and acts only in his electoral self-interest, should you not also believe he will find it in his electoral self-interest to govern conservatively after campaigning as a conservative?

The closest I’ve seen anyone come to making this argument was National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru in his endorsement of Romney, when he contrasts Romney with Obama rather than with other Republicans:

If Mitt Romney becomes president, he will almost certainly be dealing with John Boehner as speaker of the House and Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader. While they, too, have their conservative detractors, they are the most conservative congressional leaders Republicans have had in modern times, and they will exert a rightward influence on the Romney administration. If they send him legislation to repeal Obamacare, cut taxes, or reform entitlements, he will sign it where Obama would veto it. If at some other point in his presidency a liberal-run Congress sends him tax increases, he will veto them where Obama would sign. Compared with President Obama, a President Romney would do more to protect the defense budget.

I see three potential objections to the line of thinking I’ve suggested. The first is very weak: Romney is really a liberal at heart and is just saying conservative things now so that he can get into office and govern liberally. I don’t believe that, and I don’t think many other people do, either. For starters, if Romney’s over-arching goal is to pursue liberal policies, why not wait until after Barack Obama leaves office? (If you believe Romney would be more liberal than Obama, I have nothing to say to you.) And if Romney is really a liberal at heart, why wouldn’t he have run as a Democrat from the get-go, given that he was running in Massachusetts of all places?

The second potential objection is less easily dismissed: In the general election Romney would tack toward the center, thinking there is no situation in which Republicans will abandon him and contribute to Obama’s re-election — and that he will then be more beholden to governing squishily than conservatively. I think Romney would be miscalculating if he believes all that, but I guess it’s possible.

The third potential objection may be the toughest to overcome: Should Congress flip back into totally Democratic hands in, say, 2014, then Romney, lacking a true or strong ideological orientation, will perceive that governing liberally is the best way to win re-election. Now, he would certainly have to expect to be primaried in that event, probably successfully, so I’m not sure he would flip even then. But if you go for the pure electoral self-interest theory, this scenario is at least plausible.

Personally, I don’t think any of those three scenarios is more likely than the case I outlined before them. So, I would expect a Romney nominated by the GOP after campaigning as a conservative to govern like a conservative for the most part — which is as much as can be said for either President Bush, and perhaps a future President Gingrich.

That may not be enough to win him the nomination. And, to reiterate, it’s not enough to win an endorsement from me today. But for those who distrust Romney because of the differences between his words now and his words then, I think it’s worth considering the similarities between his words then and his actions then — and what that may foretell about the impact of his words now.

– By Kyle Wingfield

Find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter

200 comments Add your comment

UGA 1999

December 13th, 2011
12:12 pm

I am not sure if Mitt will get the nod. But if you are looking for someone more “middle of the road” he is your man.

Jefferson

December 13th, 2011
12:15 pm

You seem like a flip flopper to me, who IS your endorsement ?

UGA 1999

December 13th, 2011
12:16 pm

NOW if we want to talk about a “flip-flopper”, we can certainly look at the last few years with Obama.

UGA 1999

December 13th, 2011
12:16 pm

Jefferson….why do we have to have an endorsement yet?

Jefferson

December 13th, 2011
12:17 pm

Don’t pat yourself on the back, the question is for the author.

Kyle Wingfield

December 13th, 2011
12:18 pm

Jefferson: When I make up my mind, y’all will be the first to know.

UGA 1999

December 13th, 2011
12:20 pm

Jefferson…..I wonder why you are so defensive??

Jefferson

December 13th, 2011
12:21 pm

Kyle, how much more to you have to know ?

UGA 1999

December 13th, 2011
12:22 pm

“Kyle, how much more to you have to know?” WHAT?!?!?!?!

redneckbluedog

December 13th, 2011
12:35 pm

Heh, heh, heh……..Newt Gingrich…Richard Nixon on crack…!!!!…..:-)….

UGA 1999

December 13th, 2011
12:36 pm

Heh, heh,heh…….Obama………Hitler on meth.!!!!

Lee Weber

December 13th, 2011
12:37 pm

Kyle, good post.

Like you, I don’t yet have a horse in the race, but I see Romney’s changes in positions are of two types. One, positions he took (and may have believed) to get elected Gov. of Mass., some of which are not dissimilar to positions that Ronald Reagan took (and may have believed) to get elected Gov. of California.

The second type is a “hey, we thought we’d try it, and it didn’t work,” aka the Mass. health care law.

I quite frankly don’t have a problem with either. Business people do both all the time…I’m more concerned with where they would take us than where they’ve been, and how their personal character affects the nation (and I’m not talking about Newt’s personal life, moreso what the people who worked with him everyday have said and written about him.)

I’m actually kinda hoping for a Huntsman boomlet. It’s his turn. The guy has been more consistently conservative than either Newt or Romney. We don’t have to make up our minds right away. Only about 120 delegates come out of the first three primaries.
4 minutes ago · Like

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

December 13th, 2011
12:41 pm

Guantanamo Bay: Open for business.

Obozo: flip-flop.

UGA 1999

December 13th, 2011
12:42 pm

Citizen Trials for terrorists……

Obozo – flip-flop

UGA 1999

December 13th, 2011
12:42 pm

Extending Bush Tax Codes…..

Obozo – flip-flop.

redneckbluedog

December 13th, 2011
12:43 pm

Newt’s inaugaration…Jan. 9, 2013…..

Newt’s impeachment hearings….Jan. 10, 2013……

MARK YOUR CALENDARS…!!!!!

redneckbluedog

December 13th, 2011
12:45 pm

Newt in 2000….”…Working too hard made me cheat on my sick wife…..”

Newt in 2011….”We want to force poor children to work hard”…

I don’t want my kids to turn out to be adulterers..!!!!

Allen

December 13th, 2011
12:48 pm

If we accept the premise that Romney’s main concern is electoral self-interest, he will inevitably disappoint the Republican base.

redneckbluedog

December 13th, 2011
1:00 pm

Lee Weber
December 13th, 2011
12:37 pm
———————————
As a centrist, I could support Huntsman or Paul…that’s it…..too many flies on every one else….Otherwise, it’s re-election time….

Rob Simmonz

December 13th, 2011
1:12 pm

Yes–I think this is a very valid argument and something that has occurred to me as well. Romney could, I think, be controlled by conservatives once elected. There would be no controlling Nutty Newt, though, and because he’s equally as squishy, what’s the point of nominating him? In terms of electability…I can’t conceive of independents embracing a guy as unstable as Gingrich. The late-night comedy writers are already chomping at the bit over the prospect of a Newt nomination. He’d be a laughingtock in short order. Romney would be the wiser choice.

Hillbilly D

December 13th, 2011
1:13 pm

if we assume Romney will say anything to get elected — and then do what he said so that he can be re-elected

In, my lifetime, I’ve only known one or two people who held political office, that didn’t fit that mold. None of them were at the National level.

redneckbluedog

December 13th, 2011
1:26 pm

if we assume Romney will say anything to get elected — and then do what he said so that he can be re-elected
————————————–
A moderate can get votes from the middle for a second term. The Democrats have the moderates now. It would be easy pickin’s to capture right-leaning moderates….Newt ain’t gonna git ‘em…

Dusty

December 13th, 2011
1:27 pm

Kyle,

I don’t think you did Romney any good. Not only indicating flip flopping but spineless also.

Changing your “colors” every time the wind blows does not show leadership. More like follow the crowd.

Thaat’s the thing about Romney. You just never know. He’s conservative now. But, as you said, with a Democratic congress he might be a doormat.

We don’t need any more squishy thinking, political popup, fiscally blind, wet noodle presidents. The present one is more than enough. .

stands for decibels

December 13th, 2011
1:28 pm

Good piece, Kyle.

My only very minor issue: you say

if Romney is really a liberal at heart, why wouldn’t he have run as a Democrat from the get-go, given that he was running in Massachusetts of all places?

His first major political battle was running against Kennedy in 1994. It’s not like a primary challenger would have any chance against the liberal lion so, running as a GOPer was really his only option.

Kyle Wingfield

December 13th, 2011
1:30 pm

Dusty @ 1:27: I definitely don’t expect the Romney team to email my post to all their supporters…

Dusty

December 13th, 2011
1:30 pm

redneckbluedog

If a “moderate” would not vote for Gingrich, he’s not a moderate. He’s a DEMOCRAT.

UGA 1999

December 13th, 2011
1:31 pm

redneck….do you try to be ignorant or are you really just that out of touch?

Kyle Wingfield

December 13th, 2011
1:32 pm

stands @ 1:28: I thought about that. But then, if he were a true-blue liberal, he wouldn’t have wanted to unseat Teddy, would he?

Dusty

December 13th, 2011
1:32 pm

Right, Kyle. I don’t think so either.

Jefferson

December 13th, 2011
1:33 pm

Flavor of the week, nothing to hang your hat on.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

December 13th, 2011
1:33 pm

Good afternoon, good argument. I think Mitt is conservative-lite, not leftist-lite. A second positive, I think – subject to disproof, which I welcome – that all of his flips have been from leftist to conservative. As I believe in the power of redemption, I welcome him from the dark side.

stands for decibels

December 13th, 2011
1:35 pm

But then, if he were a true-blue liberal, he wouldn’t have wanted to unseat Teddy, would he?

Sure. But there’s a world of difference between true-blue Ted Kennedy liberal, and what — dare I say it — GOP voters consider to be “liberal”, in 2011.

Put another way — Republican Edward Brooke (MA senator from 1967-1979) is certainly “liberal” by today’s standards.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

December 13th, 2011
1:35 pm

Dear Kyle, I do not perceive your column as damning with feint praise, lest that was a concern. Think you called it about right. Romney is not the ideal conservative, but he is better than the Occupy Oval Office movement that has so-damaged the country.

JDW

December 13th, 2011
1:36 pm

@UGA 1999…”do you try to be ignorant or are you really just that out of touch?”

Bet he knows UGA is State Chartered and State Funded school….

UGA 1999

December 13th, 2011
1:37 pm

JDW……Good boy…..that a way to stay on subject and task! Good boy!

JDW

December 13th, 2011
1:42 pm

@SFD..”Sure. But there’s a world of difference between true-blue Ted Kennedy liberal, and what — dare I say it — GOP voters consider to be “liberal”, in 2011.”

Right you are! Goldwater barely measures up to these guys…I wonder if Newt can get more votes than Goldwater?

JDW

December 13th, 2011
1:43 pm

@UGA 1999…”that a way to stay on subject and task”

I thought you had made ignorance the subject…

UGA 1999

December 13th, 2011
1:50 pm

JDW…..there you go again…….wow you make us laugh! haha.

Mad Max

December 13th, 2011
1:52 pm

My issue with Mitt is I don’t know him. With the others, you get a flovor of what you will get. With Mitt, I don’t know where he will go. I know we need a healer, someone who can work both sides of the aisle to get something done versus what we’ve had for such a long time.

JDW

December 13th, 2011
1:57 pm

@UGA 1999…”wow you make us laugh”

Pssst…we are laughing at you not with you.

Dusty

December 13th, 2011
1:57 pm

Ragnar,

You do have a way with words. For instance:”he (Romney) is better than the Occupy Oval Office movement that has so damaged the country.”

Right! But then again even Blimpy the clown might do better than the present Democrat. At least Blimpy would give us a laugh now and then.

Ernest T. Bass

December 13th, 2011
1:57 pm

Either way with this field in 2012 Obama is a shoe in for re election.

I wont even be close.

UGA 1999

December 13th, 2011
1:57 pm

Mad…that is a great point. I agree. I think Mitt may do a good job of working with both sides.

Ernest T. Bass

December 13th, 2011
1:59 pm

At least Blimpy would give us a laugh now and then.

W gave us allot of them.

Unfortunately he also gave allot of mothers tears when they found out their son or daughter was never coming home.

Did we find those WMD’s yet ???

UGA 1999

December 13th, 2011
2:00 pm

Ernest…..class act bro…..class act!

UGA 1999

December 13th, 2011
2:00 pm

That is the EXACT mentality that got most of the Dems kicked out of the house in the last election. Please keep up the good work.

Ernest T. Bass

December 13th, 2011
2:01 pm

UGA 1999

December 13th, 2011
2:03 pm

Ernest…..funny that is only half of an article…….More half truths from the Dems….thanks for helping prove our point about your lies and half truths.

Dusty

December 13th, 2011
2:06 pm

Mr. Bass,

Do you really like Obama’s actions? I mean the deficit, no budget, the broken promises, the follow up on Bush actions that he said he disliked, the stimulus that did not work, and on & on?

Is it party loyalty or what? I don’t think Obama is a bad man. I think he is not a good leader.

UGA 1999

December 13th, 2011
2:06 pm

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/12/13/swing-state-poll-shows-obamas-narrow-options/

Hey Ernest…..here is one for ya. Obama is trailing BOTH Romney and Newt in the swing states…….C ya Hussein!