He’s the most risk-averse major politician to come along in ages. He accepted the job at Bain Capital only after wringing out of Bill Bain a promise that, if the venture failed, Mitt would be welcomed back to Bain & Co.—at his old levels of compensation and seniority—and that the press and public would be fed some happy talk about how it had all gone as intended. And why didn’t he leave Bain in 1999 to go run the Olympics, as he always said he had, but instead take his now-famous “leave of absence”? To have the option of coming back; to minimize the risk. Even his flip-flopping, his taking of positions all over the map, is a form of risk aversion, being all things to all people, able to placate any audience, never stuck out on a limb unable to satisfy.
There’s another conservative yardstick on which Romney comes up short: he’s too smart, as in clever or book-smart, to be a real Republican candidate. All those stories about how intensely data-driven he was at Bain, or as governor? Weird. Liberals, men of caution and contemplation, are obsessed with data. Conservative men are supposed to be men of action—they have hunches and play them. In this one sense Romney is just like a Massachusetts liberal. When it’s said that conservatives still don’t trust the guy, it’s not just his past moderate record they distrust, but also this sense of Romney as approaching issues intellectually instead of instinctively, producing the lurking unease that if he got into that Oval Office, Romney might one day look at the evidence and decide that, by Jiminy Cricket, global warming does exist!
Which ties directly to his biggest wimp problem. He still, after five years and two presidential campaigns, has yet to take one real stand on any issue; has yet to adopt one position that troubles his party’s hard right. At least Obama praised Ronald Reagan. And he meant it. Romney has tried to praise Bill Clinton, but it was so obviously by way of denouncing Obama that it came off sounding hollow and too clever by half…
But if Romney is elected? Be nervous. A Republican president sure of his manhood had nothing to prove. Reagan was happy with a jolly little shoot-up in Grenada, and eventually he settled down to the serious work of arms control, consummating historic treaties with Mikhail Gorbachev. But a weenie Republican—look out. He has something to prove, needs to reassert that “natural” advantage. That spells trouble more often than not.