I watched Mitt Romney’s appearance on Meet the Press this weekend. While Romney did a reasonable job of surviving the grueling Tim Russert interrogation, two things jumped out at me, in particular. First, it took Russert most of the interview to catalogue the ways in which Romney’s political thinking has evolved (or flip-flopped, as some argue) on a host of policy issues. This is a phenomenon about which I have written on several occasions. Keep in mind that Romney formed his presidential campaign’s exploratory committee on January 3, 2007. That he is still trying to explain his ideological transformation a year later should be of real concern to Republicans who vividly remember how effective their flip-flopping charge was against John Kerry.
My guess is that, if he becomes the Republican nominee, Romney will still be answering these same questions in November 2008, even though he has argued repeatedly that his experience as governor of Massachusetts fundamentally transformed his view on many social and economic issues. While voters will ultimately decide whether Romney’s explanation is a persuasive one, it was nonetheless a bit sad to watch Russert ask him to promise to the American people that he would not change his positions back again, if elected president. In case you are wondering, Romney answered, “yes.”
Second, it struck me that the earlier version of Romney (v1.0), would have actually made an appealing, centrist Republican candidate, in a general election contest where most voters actually sit somewhere near the middle of the ideological spectrum. But that is not how our presidential selection process works. Instead, potential nominees focus on courting their party’s base, liberals on the left, and conservatives on the right, in an exercise that perpetuates the polarization our national politics. Romney v2.0 may still win his party’s “most conservative” sweepstakes, but another opportunity will have been lost.
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