Tuesday, October 30, 2012
The Romney Makeover
This election year we Ohio residents live in the most intensely contested battleground state in the country. You can’t turn on TV without suffering through nonstop political advertisements. Many are funded by SuperPacs, and negative attack ads far outweigh positive appeals for a given candidate. Sometimes they seem to border on slander. I’m disappointed that the Obama campaign is just as nasty as the Republicans. Overall, it leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth.
We watched the Republican primaries with interest because of the bizarre cast of characters. At the time I thought that Mitt Romney stood out as at least semi-rational in comparison to the mostly kooky right-wing ideologues with whom he shared the stage. It boiled down to a choice between the extreme right and the not quite as extreme right. I was rooting for Michelle Bachmann or Rick Santorum because I thought they would prove to be fodder for Obama’s campaign. Romney seemed like he might be more formidable, and he’s slowly proven to be.
Like much of the electorate, I’m startled by Romney’s abrupt change of face during the course of the campaign. I can’t remember any presidential candidate shifting his or her positions this much. In the Republican primaries Romney seemed eager to establish his conservative credentials to a wary Tea Party base. Thus, he was hawkish with respect to the use of military force in the Middle East, adopted a hard-line pro-life position, opposed gay rights, was dismissive of women’s health care issues, felt the poor were doing fine because the safety net takes care of them, advocated harsh immigration policies, and assigned top priority to keeping the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Off-stage to a private audience of rich potential donors, he dismissed 47% of Americans as viewing themselves as victims and not taking personal responsibility for their lives.
A whole new version of Romney emerged during the presidential debates. By the third and final debate Obama looked more like the challenger, attacking his opponent’s positions, while Romney largely stayed above the fray and acted more presidentially. Tailoring his remarks to the general electorate as a whole rather than exclusively Republican primary voters, Romney suddenly became pro-peace, softer on pro-life issues, supposedly deeply concerned about women’s economic well-being, certain he could lift the poor out of poverty, advocating strong bipartisanship, and expressing his heartfelt commitment to 100% of American citizens. On a lot of topics he sounded more like Obama. The bipartisan theme irked me most, since the Republicans in Congress have had the exact opposite effect. Overall, the new Romney seemed to have minimal connection to the old Romney (a phenomenon that Obama labels “Romnesia”).
Of course, it’s not unusual for political candidates to alter their stances on issues depending on their current audience and the stage of the campaign. During the primaries Romney’s own team admitted in advance that the nation would probably see a more temperate candidate in the general election. He’s sort of like a Rorschach inkblot – you can project onto him whatever you want. Right-wing voters can conclude Romney is currently pretending to be more moderate since he needs to appeal to a broader range of independent voters in order to win the election. Conversely, moderate conservative voters can say that Romney’s earlier arguments in the Republican primaries were designed to appease a party that had moved sharply to the right, and his authentic, more centrist self is only now emerging. The strategy may be effective. With the Republican base firmly in hand, Romney can concentrate on wooing independents, women, and disenchanted Democrats. The danger for the Romney campaign, of course, is that voters may be turned off since it’s difficult to know with any certainty where he stands on just about anything. It’s interesting that the Salt Lake City newspaper (in the heart of Mormon county) just endorsed Obama because of Romney’s many shifts in opinion. Here in Ohio the Romney makeover seems to be having impact. Obama was 5 to 10 points ahead in Ohio just a few weeks ago, but now the race couldn’t be much closer (47% vs. 47% in yesterday’s poll). Probably the Romney supporters are getting antsy. I know the Obama supporters are.
-Donna D (10-31): david, this is really good! donna
-Linda K-C (10-31): Great letter, you must be sick of these ads. I have taken to going to bed with my iPad at night and watching old British tv shows from Netflix . I can't stand one more tv ad.