Friday, December 14, 2007

PROVOCATIONS: Mystifying Mitt

Why Governor Mitt Romney continues to be a leading contender for the Republican nomination is mystifying. If a political dynamic speaks to the troubled state of the Republican Party today, this could be it.

There are states where election as a statewide official, especially Governor, can automatically disqualify a Republican from being competitive in a presidential primary. Massachusetts is supposed to be such a state.

Today, Massachusetts Democrats hold all six statewide offices, all 12 seats in Congress and 7-to-1 majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature. It's so difficult for a Republican to get elected to office in Massachusetts that the party did not contest 130 of 200 seats in its Legislature last year. Even the ideological fringe members of the Green-Rainbow Party fielded more nominees for statewide office (four).

Romney was a Massachusetts liberal when he ran for Governor in 2002 and the U.S. Senate in 1994. Massachusetts elects Massachusetts liberals. It's that simple. Romney understands this political reality and has effectively courted the conservative base by ridiculing the people who elected him.

Then-Governor Ronald Reagan didn't campaign for the presidency in 1976 and 1980 by mocking the Californians he represented for eight years. As he approached his 60th year, he also didn't undergo a near-total transformation in his political philosophy like Romney. Moreover, Reagan ran on his successes in California, particularly the tax issue. Romney barely even mentions his signature achievement as Governor: a health care law that Hillary Clinton could have written.

The raw politics also work against Romney in a potentially devastating way. There are flip-flops, and there are Romney-flops. On issue after issue that confront a president Romney's long history demonstrates he can have a vigorous debate with himself.

The Clinton and Obama campaigns likely have the playbook written on how to campaign against Romney. His Republican competitors obviously do not.

Despite being a Democrat campaign ad maker's dream candidate, however, Romney does exhibit one guiding political principle. Ambition. The word oftentimes is wrongly portrayed as a negative character trait in politics and elsewhere. It shouldn't. Ambition is good. But what gives it a negative connotation are candidates like Mitt Romney. He exudes a say anything mentality to win votes.

Yet, Governor Romney has remained competitive since his candidacy began, and has now won the endorsement of the venerable National Review. From now until the end of the campaign, I still won't understand the success of Romney's campaign or why many respected conservatives decided to support him.