In the surest sign that Mitt had donned a more soothing costume, he even made a flattering reference to the United Nations, the bete noire of his hawkish neocon foreign policy advisers.
But it was no doubt the neocons who coached Romney to sheath the bayonet to neutralize Obama charges of warmongering. In The Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol urged Mitt to be “pre-presidential.” (Sort of like pre-emptive war.) He advised Romney to speak at the debate “in a bipartisan way” and appeal “to the broad American tradition of international leadership, and to the actions of Harry Truman as well as those of Ronald Reagan.” He advised praising “our diplomats” and “finding something to praise in the actions of President Obama.”
Obama blew the first debate because he can’t stand the phoniness of jousts, and he seemed flummoxed by the mind-boggling phoniness of Romney. For the first time, we see President Cool unable to keep his feelings completely cloaked. In Boca, his dark eyes were glaring daggers at Romney, who was sporting his smarmy smile and mine-is-bigger-than-yours flag pin.
If Romney gets to the Situation Room, will we see Cipher Mitt, the vessel of the neocons? Or will we see Moderate Mitt, chastising the hawks — who are eager to pick up where they left off bombing, in Iran and Syria — with a variation on the line he used about al-Qaida at the debate: “We can’t kill our way out of this mess”?
It’s impossible to know. Mitt may have made so many compromises to get the prize that he doesn’t have a true self anymore. And that’s the scariest thought of all.