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Mitt Romney-The Too-Perfect Candidate?

August 27, 2007

Mitt Romney outwardly seems almost too good to be true. Solid family man, brilliant businessman, rescuer of the 2002 Winter Olympics from scandal. However, even he couldn't unseat the great bloviator himself, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) back in 1994. And therein lies a problem that has followed candidate Romney to the current presidential race. That is, the dreaded tag, "flip-flopper."

Whether he thought it necessary to woo the liberal voters in Massachusetts, or if they were his real convictions at the time, Romney was pro-choice and pro-gay rights during his run against Kennedy and continuing with his successful run for Governor of the Bay State in 2003.

A recent Detroit newspaper article compared and contrasted Romney with his father, the late George Romney, who's still remembered fondly in Michigan for his six years as governor and his leadership of American Motors before that. But the elder Romney had something in common with his son-he, too, was perceived as a flip-flopper when he ran for president in 1968, after declaring upon his return from a trip to Vietnam that he had been "brainwashed" by the military brass about the war's progress. That one word killed George Romney's promising candidacy. Like George W. Bush on taxes, it appears that the son is determined not to repeat his father's mistake. Part of this involves cementing his new positions with the public during this campaign, and not providing any sound bites that might suggest otherwise.

Conservatives are understandably wary about Romney's late conversion to pro-life and heterosexual marriage only positions. Like the neighbor who keeps an immaculate lawn and always has a friendly hello, you want to believe the best about him, but then again, we wanted to believe that the current president was more conservative than he has been. Perhaps a look at the father-son comparison would be instructive, given how much closer Bush 43 and 41 are aligned than many of us thought.

While governor of Michigan, George Romney advocated a minimum-wage law and a personal income tax-both firsts for Michigan and not what you'd expect to see on a Republican governor's to-do list. In fact, his legal advisor recently remarked that some Republicans considered Romney to be "more than a moderate," a backhanded way of saying he was a liberal. Certainly Romney's hand-picked successor, William Milliken, was a RINO of the first order.

This is not to say that Mitt Romney would necessarily favor liberal positions out of hand. However, part of his success in business and in running the Olympics no doubt has to do with his ability to build consensus for reaching a common goal. Building that consensus inevitably involves compromise. In working with a most likely Democrat Congress, Romney may find, like Bush has, that such consensus-building involves more than simply compromising. Balancing the federal budget leviathan is a whole different animal than getting a business into the black. And when it comes to the issues that Romney has changed his mind about, his opponents will undoubtedly throw that back at him whenever he nominates a judge in the Roberts-Alito mold or wants to pass traditional marriage-friendly legislation. Of course, Romney would not be alone in this difficulty-Rudy Giuliani would surely face similar challenges, but not really the same because his positions haven't changed.

Romney has enjoyed some early successes in straw polls, but whether this will translate to future success in the races that count remains to be seen. Given his position changes, he needs to forcefully articulate his current positions on these issues with the same passion that he defends his Mormon faith.

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