WASHINGTON -- “His dad probably lost the election because he was too authentic. What you saw is what you got,” Ronald B. Scott, author of Mitt Romney: An Inside Look at the Man and His Politics, said in an interview.
“Mitt is naturally a diplomat, but I think that made him more so,” Romney’s sister, Jane, told Boston Globe reporters who wrote a biography of the candidate. “He’s not going to put himself out on a limb. He’s more cautious, more scripted.”
Like his dad, Mitt Romney began as a moderate. In his failed 1994 U.S. Senate race against Ted Kennedy, he declared, “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country.” More than a decade later, as he felt the contours of a presidential run, Romney’s views changed.
His flip-flops would become legend. Romney, who served four years as Massachusetts governor, flipped on a no-tax pledge (from no to yes) and on support for Ronald Reagan’s policies (no to yes) and whether gays should serve in the military (yes to no). He shifted on whether humans contribute to global warming and dropped support of gun laws.
Romney passed universal health care in Massachusetts, a landmark achievement that shows he can govern, but does not talk about it because he is campaigning against the federal version his law inspired.
“All politicians have to deal with the tension of what may be their own personal feeling and the sentiment of people they represent,” said Ray Hammond, pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Boston, who is friends with Romney. “The problem is, of course, you can end up saying one thing in one situation and in another something different. At what point are you really reflecting your changed positions, or are you trying to appeal to a demographic?”
“All politicians are eager to win, but you mask it behind, ‘I want to help the people, I want to give back,’ those kinds of answers,” said Fred Davis, a Republican strategist. “I don’t think Mitt bothers with that. He’s looked a little too eager to get the job.”
But Davis thinks the campaign should resist trying to turn Romney into something he is not. “He has impeccable character, impeccable intellect. But he’s not the boy next door.”
A truer picture
Scott Ferson, a Democratic consultant in Boston who got to know Romney in the 1994 Senate race, thinks Romney’s business career has fueled a means-to-an-end approach to politics. “But I think it reflects poorly on his basic qualities. Someone who will rationalize anything to get where they want to be I’m not sure is the correct quality for a president.
“As a liberal Democrat,” Ferson added, “I don’t believe he’s going to do the things that he says he’s going to do.”
Some conservatives share that view, seeing Romney’s transformation as evidence of phoniness, and it’s why he struggled through the primaries. Their fears seemed to be reinforced this spring when Romney was close to clinching the nomination and his spokesman implied he could pivot from harder line positions and appeal to a broader audience — comparing the reset to shaking up an Etch-a-Sketch.
At the Republican National Convention next week, Romney may need to shake it up again and show a truer picture of himself.
“He’s a man who sincerely cares about people, who cares about the larger community. He cares about his family,” said Hammond, the Boston preacher. Right now, he added, “It doesn’t feel like the Mitt Romney I know.”
Alex Leary can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @learyreports.