Where Lies the Key to Romney’s Heart?
I have written before about politicians’ beliefs, and now I circle back to the topic in this column, my last before 30 people decide the fate of the free world based on whether or not Ohio State beats Illinois this weekend. I feel the need to write about this subject again because so many people still do not seem to understand what Mitt Romney will do in office, which means they do not understand how modern presidential politics work.
Let me say upfront that I do empathize with the dilemma of undecided voters in this election. Sensibly enough, they want to know what one of the two candidates for president will do if elected to office. Unfortunately for them, they are trying to answer that question by determining what that candidate believes. Perhaps no question has been asked more during this long, long campaign than this: What does Mitt Romney believe? Another iteration: Who is the real Mitt Romney? Massachusetts Moderate Mitt? Severely Conservative Mitt? 47% Mitt? First Debate Mitt? (How has there not yet been a YouTube mashup with Eminem’s Real Slim Shady? Someone please get on this, ASAP.)
My answer to what Romney believes is two-fold. First, it is hilariously impossible to discern. Second, while what Romney believes is obviously not irrelevant, in this situation it is hardly the pathway or the golden ticket to understanding what he would do as president. Let me explain both points, starting with the first:
Who can ever know what’s truly inside another person’s heart? Can we, as President Bush did with Vladimir Putin, look into someone’s eyes and see their soul? We can get a sense of people, sure; we flatter ourselves that we can judge others for who they really are. But we can’t ever do it completely. If that is true for normal citizens, it is all the more true for politicians, who are beholden to political momentums and structures. Republicans did not undergo an honest change of heart about the individual mandate in 2009 anymore than Barack Obama suddenly started believing in gay marriage in the spring of 2012. And if it is difficult to know what politicians believe, it is especially true for this politician. Have we ever known less about what a politician believes than we do about Mitt Romney? See Anthony Resnick’s column yesterday for a few absurd examples of Mitt saying just about everything, whenever it suits him to do so.
As to the second point, take one West Virginian undecided voter, who says he’s leaning Romney for the following reason:
[quote]I know the real Romney from his Olympics days, governorship days, and Bain days . . . I never thought the GOP minders would let him come out and talk about his family, religion, and practical—dare I say, moderate—approaches. The GOP Politburo has forced a VP candidate on him and also a narrow message.[/quote]
This voter simultaneously understands and misunderstands this presidential election. He is right that the GOP seems to have forced Romney to adopt many of their policies. This is what we call a primary, where the party base uses its leverage to determine not only who will represent it but how this candidate will represent it. The primary worked in this campaign; it worked astonishingly well. Romney vowed to do extremely conservative things as president, and candidates usually do what they say they’re going to do. This undecided voter is wrong to think a moderate Romney will appear post-election. Why do voters think this?
Ah, because of the first debate, in which Romney tricked half the country into believing he is really a moderate. It is, when you think about it, astonishing what he was able to pull off with his pivot toward the center. It was not that Romney articulated his plans more clearly than before. It was that he changed his plans—and this caused people to believe they know his true intentions! Consider this bit of ludicrousness from the sportswriter Buzz Bissinger, explaining his decision to vote for Romney after the debate:
[quote] He also revealed compassion that, during the entirety of this absurdly long march, had never been in evidence before. He recognized the needs of the poor. He recognized the need for regulation.[/quote]
Get that? When it comes to convincing Bissinger what’s in Romney’s heart, ninety minutes outweigh years of campaigning. I said this after the debate, but it’s worth saying again: have you noticed that 99 percent of the people wondering if Romney will secretly be a moderate president are confused or hopeful moderates? You don’t hear the conservative base getting angsty that they chose some sort of Manchurian Candidate.
I don’t mean to say that it never matters what a politician believes. As Stephen Kurczy has noted, “the electorate does draw a line somewhere” when it comes to candidate beliefs. We’d be loath to elect someone who was a Nazi sympathizer or believed 9/11 was an inside job.
What I do mean to say is this: regardless of whether he is a moderate at heart, Mitt Romney will be a conservative president. Perhaps not on every little detail (surely you’ll see the return of some Keynesian stimulus if a Republican is in the Oval Office). But he has pledged to enact extremely conservative policies, and a Republican House full of extremely conservative members will be making sure of it. If you expect otherwise, prepare to be disappointed.