Near the top of his Mitt Romney profile, Ryan Lizza gives a good summary of the former governor’s many political transformations. A man in New Hampshire introduces himself as a hunter and asks Romney what he’s going to do about global warming. Romney notes that “to do that it’s going to take nuclear power, clean coal, more efficient vehicles, and then we’re going to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gases.” Lizza comments:
It was a good answer, but also a strange one. Not long ago, Romney released a glossy pamphlet detailing his positions on major issues. He sounded like Al Gore when talking to the environmentalist in New Hampshire, though his policy book’s treatment of global warming reads more like something from ExxonMobil. In it, Romney refers to the “debate” over “how much human activity impacts the environment”—code words for the global-warming-denial crowd. He offers no plan to “dramatically” curtail emissions of CO2, just an aside that “we may well be able to rein in our greenhouse-gas emissions.” As the governor of Massachusetts, Romney, in December, 2005, pulled out of a Northeast-state agreement on carbon reduction—a plan that he had supported the month before.
This is a habit of Romney’s. Politicians tend to pander, especially during the primary season. Romney’s chief opponent, Rudy Giuliani, also has a history as a pro-gun-control, pro-gay-rights Republican. But while Giuliani simply downplays his record on those issues, Romney sells himself as a true convert. He not only shifts positions; he often claims to be the most passionate advocate of his new stances. It’s one of the reasons that his metamorphosis from liberal Republican to committed right-winger seems so jarring. In 1994, in his race for the Senate, he didn’t simply argue that he was a defender of gay rights; he claimed to be a stronger advocate than his opponent, Edward Kennedy. Today, he’s not just a faithful conservative but the only Republican candidate who represents “the Republican wing of the Republican Party.” He brings a salesman’s bravado and certainty to issues. At a debate in May, when asked how he would respond to a hypothetical situation involving the interrogation of a terrorist at Guantánamo Bay, he said, “Some people have said we ought to close Guantánamo. My view is that we ought to double Guantánamo.” Elected as a pro-choice governor in 2002—YouTube is flooded with his passionate advocacy of abortion rights—he now presents himself as the most resolute anti-abortion candidate in the Republican field. A Mormon, he sometimes adopts the religious language of Evangelicals when he is addressing conservative Christian groups. To economic conservatives, he pitches himself as the candidate most strongly committed to slashing spending and taxes. (He’s the only major G.O.P. candidate to have signed a formal anti-tax pledge, the sort of move that his spokesman dismissed as “government by gimmickry” in Romney’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign.) To national-security conservatives, he is the most hawkish. (He says often that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, of Iran, should be indicted under the Genocide Convention, and his campaign has named the former C.I.A. counterterrorism chief, Cofer Black, the vice-chairman of Blackwater, as an adviser.) But, while giving customers exactly what they want may be normal in the corporate world, it can be costly in politics.
The weird thing is that having flip-flopped and pandered a lot, Romney’s campaign seems to feel almost liberated. At this point, it’s not worth worrying that any particular thing will earn their candidate a reputation as a liar, a flip-flopper, and a panderer, because his stances on just a few high-profile issues show very clearly that he is a liar, is a flip-flopper, and is a panderer. Thus, they can feel free to pander and flip-flop on everything all the time. This is a stark contrast to, say, Giuliani or McCain who want to try to both trim their sails on some issues, while seeking credit for being straightforward and honest on others. Team Romney, though, always knows that for their guy Expediency Conquers All.