Reminds me of what Philip Klein wrote a few weeks ago upon reading that Romney was set to run to Jeb Bush’s right in the primaries. “That strikes me as quintessential Romney,” said Klein.
Put aside the fact that (whatever his drawbacks) Bush’s record as governor of Florida was actually to the right of Romney’s in Massachusetts. How I read this line is that Romney’s assessment of the GOP nomination marketplace has revealed that there is a demand for an establishment candidate to the right of Bush, so he thinks he can manufacture a product with Romney 3.0 that will meet that market demand. Never mind Romney’s actual record or convictions.
Turns out the new and improved Romney 3.0 is actually all natural, stripped of its preservatives and repackaged to please political consumers’ demand for less processed candidates. In short, Romney’s going to rebrand himself as himself:
If he runs again in 2016, Romney is determined to re-brand himself as authentic, warts and all, and central to that mission is making public what for so long he kept private. He rarely discussed his religious beliefs and practices in his failed 2008 and 2012 races, often confronting suspicion and bigotry with silence as his political consultants urged him to play down his Mormonism…
“If he were to run again,” he added, “I believe he would be much more willing to open up and share who he is — not by asking others to learn the doctrines of his faith, but by speaking of the values of love and service that it has taught him.”…
“In spite of the comments about the ‘47 percent,’ he now talks about lifting the poor,” said friend Fraser Bullock, referring to Romney’s 2012 remarks about people dependent on government. “That’s something he’s done his whole life, but he’s done it quietly, ministering his faith and helping people who are struggling with this issue or that issue. That was all hidden last time.”
He’s gathering binders full of himself, tweets Dan McLaughlin. As an outsider, it’s impossible to tell after so many image makeovers who the “real Romney” is. But only in Romneyworld could being yourself be seen as a form of “branding.” And only Romneyworld, cursed with a media narrative that their guy is a soulless plutocratic robot yet gifted with the fact that seemingly everyone who knows him says he’s a fine, warm, decent man, would need eight years and two failed presidential campaigns before thinking of maybe showing off his personal side a little.
The thing is, he did make one big concession to authenticity in 2012. Despite pressure from the base to prove he was “severely conservative” by repudiating RomneyCare, he refused to do it. That’s not (chiefly) because he takes great pride in the program, I’ve always thought; if you could promise Romney the White House in return for him saying he wished he’d never signed the bill as governor, he’d take that deal in a heartbeat. He stood by RomneyCare because he calculated, I think, that it was more important to signal to wary righties that he could stand on principle even when it’s unpopular than to pull yet another flip-flop for obvious political advantage. Better to take the heat on RomneyCare during the primaries, knowing that conservatives would line up behind him in the general, than reverse course on it and earn their contempt as a panderer who’d surely sell out their interests as president if he was willing to sell out his own signature legislation as governor. All of which is to say, even Romney’s most conspicuous show of “authenticity” in 2012 was a matter of branding — the resolute executive who could be trusted to stick by his positions.
I’m not so sure his inauthenticity is even his main problem at this point. It might be with the general electorate (although even an “authentic” Romney would have trouble explaining away the “47 percent” comments), but Republican voters are well acquainted with him by now. It’s not a surprise to them that Romney’s a family man who’s active in his church. GOPers across the country watched the affecting biographical short at the RNC convention that was used to introduce their nominee. The people you most often hear lamenting the fact that Romney downplayed his personal side in 2012 are, in fact, rank-and-file Republicans. They know him; they wish non-Republicans had known him on election day 2012 too. In which case, what effect will a new and improved heartwarmingly “real” Romney 3.0 really have on the primaries? GOPers aren’t going to reject him because they think he’s a jerk, they’re going to reject him because he’s an aging two-time loser up against a field of more talented politicians. In the end, he’s going to rebrand himself as the reigning nominee who finished out of the money in all of the early states because he didn’t know when to quit. Which will only make him that much more tragic and sympathetic for the inevitable extra-authentic sequel to “Mitt.”
If it doesn’t work out, he can always re-re-re-rebrand himself as inauthentic again for 2020.
Update: Commenter “Schadenfreude” suggests a slogan for the new campaign: “I’m severely authentic.”