The Many Moods of Mitt Romney
By DAVID BROOKS and GAIL COLLINS
Gail Collins: David, can we discuss the Many Mitts today? During the debates we saw the centrist version in full bloom. Get those troops out of Afghanistan! Secure the social safety net!
David Brooks: I know. It was amazing. I thought the soul of George McGovern had leapt through the air straight into the Republican nominee.
Gail: I presume that makes you happy. But my question is - what makes you think that if he wins the election, that's going to be the one in the Oval Office?
David: Oh, it's all in the Republican platform if you read the fine print. There are 37 different Mitt Romneys. Once in the White House, they are scheduled to appear sequentially, day-by-day, depending on the lunar calendar, with adjustments made for leap years, months that begin with the letter "M," and the forthcoming primary schedule.
There will be rotating White House staffs to go with each different Mitt. For example, Treasury Secretary Robert Zoellick will alternate with Treasury Secretaries Donald Trump and Ralph Reed.
Gail: I was surprised on Monday when the Mitt Romney who laced into the Obama administration for Benghazi was replaced by one who didn't really want to talk about Libya at all. The Benghazi version was only a few weeks old, and it seemed as if the campaign might have given him a little time to mellow. Every Mitt needs to be aged until it reaches its peak flavor. Like a box of fine wine.
David: I actually thought that this was smart on a number of levels. First, most voters don't want endless fights about Benghazi. They want to know if you have a general foreign policy worldview. Second, they want a worldview that will illuminate your character and disposition. Third, the most important thing for a challenger is to look presidential, not like a carping critic.
Finally, the polls seem to be trending in Romney's direction. My general rule is that close elections go to whoever gets the late break and right now that's the Republican. Therefore he was playing it safe and hoping the trend would continue while Obama was being aggressive and hoping to reverse the trend.
Gail: It's true that every politician shaves his policy positions during campaign season. I still have very painful memories of 2008 primary debates when Barack Obama attacked Hillary Clinton for wanting to require people to purchase health insurance.
But Romney's transformations have been so sweeping, and so frequent, I'm not sure that there's any core. Except when it comes to family and faith. In private life, I'm confident there's a true Mitt. But a lot of good that'll do the rest of us.
David: Actually, this is my biggest concern these days. Things happen so fast in the White House that if you don't have a set of clear priorities, everything can descend into chaos. Romney is so other-directed, it does seem likely he will blow with the winds.
Mitigating that, though, are several factors. Romney seems inclined to hire the safe, professional Republicans. They are not moderates, but they are mainstream. Also, the Republican Party is pretty unified about what it wants to do (tax reform, entitlement reform, etc.), so Romney's main job will be to execute an agenda that already exists.
The interesting choices will arise if Romney wins with a Democratic Senate. Then the question is: Would he have the courage to betray his base? He has never really shown that courage.
Gail: I used to have theories about who the real Romney was. For instance, in retrospect I'm pretty sure the pro-choice Mitt who ran for Senate against Ted Kennedy was lying through his teeth. Although it was pretty shocking when he went so far as to get all weepy about his need to protect women from the fate of his relative who'd died from an illegal abortion.
But now I think that on most issues there's no real Mitt. Does he secretly like Obama's health care reform? Does he really believe the military budget needs to be bigger? Is he the seriously conservative guy we saw in the primaries or the mushy moderate who's been hanging around for the last couple of weeks?
David: I think the debate guy is closer to the real Mitt than the primary guy. He's lived up in Michigan and Massachusetts. He's hung around the blue state business community most of his life. He's pretty establishmentarian with a Mormon element thrown in. Given his environment I think there's more of a chance he'd be like George H.W. Bush than like Rick Perry.
Gail: My Romney is Movable Mitt. Malleable Mitt. If I could think of another "M" adjective that suggested lack of core conviction, I would toss it in so there'd be three.
David: Metaphysical Mitt? Metaphorical Mitt? Mollycoddled Mitt? I agree, it's tough.
Gail: Mutable Mitt! My prediction is that if Mutable wins, he'll get rid of Obamacare but fail to replace it with anything else. He'll do the tax cuts but fail to get any loophole closing on the other end. He'll eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood without creating any alternative network family planning provider for low-income women.
David: My prediction. He gets rid of a few parts of Obamacare. His eventual tax reform idea will look nothing like what he has proposed so far. The numbers are just too far out of whack. I don't know about Planned Parenthood, but I fear for PBS.
I should be vociferously anti-Romney by the way. I work at PBS once a week. That's my employer he's taking a whack at. On this I hope you're right and he's just faking it. Somehow I doubt it.
Gail: I'm getting depressed. Let's find a happier subject. Where are you going to spend the last week of the campaign? I'm going to Ohio because Ohio now appears to be the only state that counts. Except maybe for Colorado, but Ohio is a lot easier to get to from New York. Anyway, I always try to visit the tomb of William Henry Harrison around the holiday season.
David: You know Ohio would be getting pretty smug if it wasn't filled with Ohioans, who are not disposed in that direction. My travel schedule actually slows down in the final week. I don't think the campaigns have much new to say and I doubt I'll be able to find the six voters who will decide this thing, so I'll just sit in my basement and contemplate the pointlessness of existence. Boy, am I ready for this thing to be over.
Gail: I would like it to go on and on. At least until Romney gets overstressed and accidentally morphs into a punk rocker or a member of the court of Louis XIV.
I know you're a big poll maven. What do you think will happen in the Congressional races? It looks to me as if the House and Senate are going to wind up pretty much the same. Which is, I guess, another depressing thought.
David: I agree. But we conservatives like continuity. Though I think there will be one or two wild results. Like Akin winning in Missouri. Or the Democrats taking Indiana. Still, I bet the Democrats keep the Senate.
Gail: If Akin wins, I will personally set up a charitable foundation to help humiliated Missourians move to another state. There are a lot of jobs in North Dakota.
David: It could of course be that Obama keeps the White House and the current Congress stays basically the same. In that circumstance, then it would be time to fire the voters. They say the country is heading in the wrong direction. They want change. They rehire the management. What's up with that?