I've been observing Mitt Romney off and on for a few years, and quite closely since I started this website in February of this year. Up until the last couple of weeks, I've viewed him as awkward, a bit odd, but basically harmless and even somewhat amusing.
He has a slightly weird way of looking at things. He likes Michigan because "the trees are about the right height." He didn't travel by plane; he went by "aircraft." He "liked to fire people." He described himself as "severely conservative."
These idiosyncrasies, coupled with a ready smile, an attractive family and a businessman on the go image, resulted in Mitt receiving a pass from intensive scrutiny of a strange political career in which addresses and positions came and went with no intervening explanation for the reasons underlying the change.
This willingness and ability to invent and reinvent himself on the fly was in full flower during the debates and reached virtuoso levels during the last debate on foreign policy.
Foreign policy is a dangerous area for Romney. The President has been executing foreign policy for three and a half years, and before that, he served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for four years. Romney couldn't afford to look outclassed and he couldn't afford a huge gaffe. He couldn't afford a freewheeling give-and-take with the President, where either or both were likely.
This called for creativity on Mitt's part and, clearly, he was up to the task. He abandoned his own positions, and embraced the President's positions on most major issues, thereby cutting off nearly all areas of debate where he was at a severe knowledge and experience disadvantage.
It was like he went from belligerent neocon warmonger to flower-child peacenik overnight. Stephen Hayes of the right-wing Weekly Standard wrote, "Romney was so determined to avoid sounding like George W. Bush that he spent much of the night sounding like Barack Obama."
What's going on here? I see four things.
First, the country is war-weary. Belligerence is not a viable position, especially with women, where Romney is far behind.
Second, the last thing Romney wanted was to end up debating differences in foreign policy in the final two weeks of the campaign. Not his turf.
Third, Romney is gambling that nearly all of the people who are for him will stay with him no matter what "adjustments" he makes to policy positions. They want to beat Barack Obama. Positions are nearly irrelevant. It's personal with them.
Fourth, to certain parts of Romney's support base, like Sheldon Adelson and the neocons, belligerence is a virtue. That's what they want. I would guess Mr. Adelson knows his boy Mitt well enough to know that Mitt's peace-loving, flower-child incarnation is just a passing fantasy that he will grow out of if he actually happens to make it to the White House.
In fact, I would be shocked if Mitt did not assure Mr. Adelson of the temporary nature of this peace-loving phase, and assure him that he will certainly get his money's worth when the time and targets are right.
We are in danger of entering the twilight zone in American politics. Mitt Romney is unlike any candidate I've seen, and I watched Richard Nixon pretty closely from the vantage point of the impeachment movement.
Romney literally could not care less about the merits of public policy positions or their consequences. It's all about return on investment. If increased spending on shipbuilding helps him in Newport News, Virginia, great. He's for it. If softening his severely conservative pro-life position is necessary to close the gender gap in Colorado … no problem … do it.
On the campaign trail, Barack Obama frequently uses phrases like, "It's the right thing to do," and, "It's who we are," when describing his support for particular policy positions. Romney must find statements like that strange.
Why would someone care if something is "the right thing to do"?
Comments are welcome at tomc[at]wednesdayswars[dot]com. Name and town if you wish to opine. Comments will be addressed in subsequent posts.