Pundit Smackdown: Who’s the Real Mitt?
For all the saturation coverage of this campaign, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more focus on this question: Which President Romney would we be getting?
Will it be the severely conservative ex-governor who ran in the primaries, or the Moderate Mitt of the past month?
That question looms large in a debate over the GOP nominee between two of my Daily Beast colleagues, David Frum and Andrew Sullivan. And it gets to the heart of a media conundrum, which is how to cast a candidate who changes his spots so late in the game.
Frum reluctantly endorses Romney by choosing to disregard much of what he has said on the trail:
“I’d like to believe the David Brooks theory of the Romney presidency: that Romney will pivot away from Tea Party Republicanism as soon as he is elected. I don’t see much evidence in support of that theory, alas… Mitt Romney’s campaign has been one long appeasement of the most selfish and stupid elements of the Republican coalition, and the instinct for appeasement will not terminate with the counting of the votes next Tuesday.”
But Frum also believes in “Massachusetts Mitt– the Mitt who hurled himself into the battle for universal health coverage.” He concludes: “I don’t want to see Obamacare repealed. I don’t believe it will be, not even if the Republicans retake the Senate, which I don’t expect either.”
That gives Sullivan an opening:
“And yet Romney has said it will be his first priority on Day One to end the program despised by every element of his far right party. He says this almost every day. David thinks Romney is cynical enough to make that clear, binding pledge day after day, ad after ad, and then instantly renege on it, even with a Republican majority in both houses.”
The gist of Andrew’s broadside against Frum: “The premise of his argument is that Romney is a liar of massive proportions whose campaign David accurately describes as ‘one long appeasement of the most selfish and stupid elements of the Republican coalition,’ but who actually, in private, doesn’t believe a word of it. So not to worry.”
There you have it. I wrote months ago that Romney’s flip-flopping (from his days as a pro-choice moderate) could actually work in his favor because many voters would assume he had to pander to the right wing and wouldn’t actually carry out that agenda.
Former GOP congressman Tom Davis told me the other day that in primary politics “you have to feign left, you have to feign right…Romney did what he had to do to get nominated.”
No wonder people are cynical about politics. There are plenty of questions to be asked about what Barack Obama would do in a second term, but what Frum and Sullivan are debating ought to be the media’s main question about Romney—one that will loom large if he manages to win.
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