I almost feel bad for Mitt Romney. He's obviously a smart guy, and when he was governor of Massachusetts he was pretty much the technocratic kind of governor the voters expected -- not pushing conservative social issues too far, creating a health-care reform that's a lot like what the Obama plan ended up looking like. But since he wants to be president, he has to get past a Republican primary electorate that really doesn't care about smarts and technocratic skill. Identity politics is king in the GOP, and Mitt just doesn't have an identity he can hang his hat on. As someone without any evident sense of self, he'll put on whatever identity he thinks will work. He changed positions on things like abortion and immigration, and there have been few political spectacles more absurd than his speech at the 2008 convention, when this Harvard-trained, son-of-a-former-governor-and-corporate-CEO, centimillionaire Massachusetts resident whipped up the crowd with his alleged scorn for the "Eastern elite," as though he had just ambled in from the holler in his overalls.
And now, in advance of his 2012 run for the White House, Romney has come out with a book called No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, because apparently politicians haven't been sufficiently boosterish about America up until now. Thankfully, Spencer Ackerman read it so the rest of us wouldn't have to. "A glance through the remarkable conflation of conservative shibboleths, paranoid global fantasies and deterministic myopia in 'No Apology' makes it difficult to avoid the conclusion that the perennial GOP candidate might have been better off saying nothing at all," Ackerman writes. In other words, it's about what you'd expect.
Foreign policy is not really Romney's wheelhouse, but I suppose he feels the need to check off the "Grrr...I hate terrorists!" box. Look for him to pivot away from foreign policy, particularly since Republicans are having a hard time saying Obama is destroying our standing in the world. The GOP primary will be about the domestic scourge -- the socialist tide oozing from the White House -- and who can capture the spirit of the aggrieved, bitter, angry white man. Romney could make an argument about why, with his managerial experience and business success, he'd be a better steward of government and the economy than his opponents. But that's not the ground on which they're going to be competing.
I imagine Romney looks at his probable opponents with frustration, knowing that he's far more capable of being president than your Palins and Pawlentys. Though we have yet to locate the depth of pandering to which Mitt won't sink, his efforts at identity politics just don't come as naturally as they do to the others. But he's certainly going to give it the old college try.
-- Paul Waldman
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