Mitt Romney: Reagan conservative or crypto-liberal?
Years ago, legendary Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards famously joked, "The only way I can lose this election is if I'm caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy."
That’s pretty much where Mitt Romney stands now. After his decisive victory in last night’s New Hampshire primary, Romney’s proven that he doesn’t need the fundies and the Tea Partiers to win the Republican presidential nomination (an NBC exit poll showed that more than a third of voters cast their vote based on the candidate’s ability to defeat Barack Obama—and Romney captured 62 percent of those voters).
What’s more, his opponents are going to start dropping off after next week’s South Carolina primary. Jon Hunstman, while making a semi-respectable showing last night, is out of gas. Rick Santorum’s just coasting off his near-win in Iowa. Rick Perry’s campaign is broken down by the side of the road, and Newt Gingrich is running on fumes (although he’ll hang on a while in an effort to scorch as much earth as possible).
In fact, it appears that the only real opposition to Romney still standing is Ron Paul, and although he’s built a wider-than-expected support, it’s nowhere deep enough to carry him to the nomination.
So, barring some unforeseen event (like the aforementioned dead girl or live boy) Romney will be named the GOP presidential candidate at the Republican National Convention in August.
And that leaves just one question: who is the guy?
During his term as governor of Massachusetts, Romney did a number of things that would brand just about anyone as a liberal. He raised taxes (mainly through “user fees”) and closed tax loopholes for businesses; he was pro-choice; he supported the gun control Brady Bill; he was pro-gay rights, and he even supported a law which allowed for civil unions of same-sex partners.
Most telling, however, he created the Massachusetts Health Reform Law, which provided for the first-in-the-nation statewide universal health coverage.
As soon as he decided to first run for president in 2008, however, Romney began to tack immediately to the right, becoming pro-life, pro-gun, anti-gay marriage, and anti-tax.
Charged—by both the right and the left— with being a flip-flopper, Romney argues that he’s allowed to change his mind. "The older I get,” Romney has said, “the smarter Ronald Reagan gets."
But is he being truthful, or is he just saying what he thinks Republican primary voters want to hear?
The answer, potentially, lies in Romney’s family history. His father, George, was governor of Michigan and a formidable presidential candidate himself in 1968. And he was, most decidedly, a member of the Republican party’s now long-defunct liberal wing.
Earlier this week, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. compared and contrasted the two Romneys in a Huffington Post piece called “Mitt Romney’s Test of Moral Fiber”:
George Romney ran an extraordinarily honest, thoughtful and honorable campaign. The senior Romney, a former Chairman and CEO of American Motors Corporation, criticized the military industrial complex for lying to Americans about Vietnam and mocked the products of Detroit's Big Three as "gas guzzling dinosaurs." He was a vocal advocate of Civil Rights and anti-poverty legislation. He supported strong unions as the launching pad for America's middle class and criticized conservative palaver about "rugged individualism," unrestricted free markets, and wholesale corporate deregulation as "nothing but a political banner to cover up greed." Romney, a Mormon bishop, refused to work on Sundays (with rare exception), fasted before big decisions, spurned dirty campaigning and other appeals to the dark forces of ignorance, greed, racism and division.
Of course Richard Nixon went on to win the election that year, and America as a whole has been moving to the right ever since.
As has Mitt Romney, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to stop any time soon. In fact, should he get the Republican nomination, look for a really reactionary running mate pick—a pit bull Romney can let off his (or her) leash to go after Barack Obama. Someone to satisfy true conservatives who held their nose and went with Romney because of his “electability” and not his ethos.
Still, the questions remain: is Romney’s conversion to conservatism for real? Did he have some grand life-changing moment like Constantine at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge?
Or is he really just a crypto-liberal who hasn’t fallen far from the family tree?
If he’s elected come November, we’ll find out.