A Tale of Two Mitts, Foreign Policy Edition

In an attempt to build his post-debate momentum, Mitt Romney gave a speech on foreign policy this morning. The overall consensus is that it was a whole lot of nothing new: Writing at Foreign Policy, Daniel Drezner notes that there is “almost no new policy content” in the speech. Indeed, it was mostly the usual laundry list of complaints against President Obama for lacking “resolve,” while Romney pledged to pursue the same policies that have defined the Obama administration’s approach to foreign policy. Wired’s Spencer Ackerman points out the similarities:

On Iran, he’ll propose “new sanctions” and to “tighten the sanctions we currently have,” which is the cornerstone of Obama’s Iran policy (along with cyberattacks). On Afghanistan, he “will pursue a real and successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014,” which is the cornerstone of Obama’s Afghanistan policy. On Libya, Romney will “support the Libyan people’s efforts to forge a lasting government that represents all of them,” which is the cornerstone of Obama’s Libya policy. Perhaps most surprisingly, Romney will recommit to negotiating peace between Israel and Palestine, which was a cornerstone of Obama’s Mideast policy before it crumbled into dust.

It’s that final point—Romney’s commitment to peace between Israel and Palestine—which should raise eyebrows. It’s almost forgotten, but the full “47 percent” video at the private fundraiser included remarks on everything from the advantages of being Latino—it would be “easier” to win as a minority—to how Palestinians are incapable of building peace. Here’s what he said then about the peace process:

I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, “There’s just no way.” And so what you do is you say, “You move things along the best way you can.” You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem.

Much like Romney’s promise to cut taxes, preserve spending and balance the budget, these are mutually exclusive views. Either Romney believes that the peace process is hopeless, or he doesn’t. Today’s speech doesn’t give us much insight into what Romney believes, other than that he sees himself as better equipped to pursue Obama’s foreign policy goals.

It’s this ambiguity—combined with the fact of the video and Romney’s history of shapelessness—which will complicate his attempts to remake himself into a moderate in the home stretch of the election. The public has seen what Romney says behind closed doors, and even if it isn’t the “real Mitt,” it feels authentic—in some sense, we associate “truth” with privacy. My guess is that voters will come back to that viedo whenever they’re faced with the question of Romney’s beliefs: “I like what he’s saying now, but I know what he said when no one was watching. I can’t trust him.”

Romney’s debate performance may have pushed “47 percent” out of the news, but it will continue to affect how voters perceive the former Massachusetts governor—and it won’t do him any favors.