Mitt Romney had the makings of a most formidable presidential candidate. Look at the resume.
Romney achieved extraordinary success in business. He applied those executive skills to rescuing the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. In Democratic Massachusetts, he won election as a Republican, as governor gaining management experience unique to the public sector.
He positioned himself in the political center, as a problem-solver, getting past the ideology and rancor to data-driven remedies. He joined with Edward Kennedy to address the ailments in health care, melding conservative and liberal ideas into a package that would serve as a model for the country.
Add that Romney appears the picture of traditional values, devoted to his church and family. More, no scandal in sight, except, perhaps, a dodgy tax shelter or two.
The trouble is, as scenes from the Republican National Convention reinforced, Romney has abandoned this portrait in key ways. He cannot talk about the leading success story of his time as governor. He wants to repeal the national changes in health care that mirror his own in many ways.
And that represents just the start of the many Romney reversals, or his leap to the right. He once supported abortion rights. He favored gun control. He advocated gay rights. He wanted to do something about climate change. He discussed finding middle ground on illegal immigration. Not too long ago, he wanted to keep tax rates at their current levels. Now he wants tax cuts.
Remember when Republicans unleashed the character issue? They voiced outrage practically every time Bill Clinton parsed a sentence or rounded the edges of a position. John Kerry, caught wind-surfing, was ridiculed for supporting the $87 billion before he was against it.
Now Republicans have a nominee who makes Clinton look like a paragon of consistency. The Economist magazine appropriately asked on its cover last week: “So, Mitt, what do you really believe?”
To hear Romney tell it, in his choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate and in his acceptance speech, he believes with those on the far right. Does that leave room for peeling back to the center? Let’s examine the party he relentlessly has sought to please.
In his recent book, Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, from Eisenhower to the Tea Party, Geoffrey Kabaservice, a Yale historian, relays a dispiriting tale. He conveys what the party and the country have lost due to the virtual extinction of moderates within Republican ranks. Moderates in both parties are the mechanism for striking compromises, taking that one-quarter or one-half of a loaf, and moving forward.
Kabaservice argues that moderates bring effective governance, getting beyond the posturing and gridlock. He explains how moderate Republicans “helped to reshape conservatism, and made it a more realistic and powerful creed.” Without moderates, he adds, conservatives have a harder time advancing their policies.
Ohio offers its own examples of the endangered. Steve LaTourette gave up his re-election bid, weary of the wrangling, the House unable to reach closure on something everyone supposedly wants, a transportation bill. His frustration echoed that of Ralph Regula, another lawmaker who worked well across the aisle.
Even John Boehner, who sits precariously in the speaker’s chair.
Mike DeWine wasn’t pure enough during his days in the Senate, among other things, warming to the need for action on climate change. Now he is the state attorney general, his conservative credentials buffed by his opposition to health-care reform and his endorsement of Rick Santorum in the party’s presidential primary
Hard to imagine the pragmatic, get-it-done George Voinovich winning favor in the party today.
One temptation is to say: Democrats have their own movement types. They do. Yet Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein sink the contention of they-do-it-we-do-it in their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. The headline on their July essay in the Washington Post captured the essence: “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.”
Mann and Ornstein hardly rate as Democratic tools. They are old Washington hands, creatures of the center, allies in both camps.
They have concluded: “The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
“When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.”
For his part, Geoffrey Kabaservice puts the beginning of the end for Republican moderates at the failure of George Romney to win the party’s presidential nomination in 1968. Now the son has achieved what the father did not, standing awkwardly at the head of the party, no less the portrait of what might have been.
Douglas is the Beacon Journal editorial page editor. He can be reached at 330-996-3514, or emailed at email@example.com.