Buyer Beware: Romney’s Tack to the Center

Last night I almost felt sorry for presidential aspirant, Mitt Romney. You had the impression he was in the middle of an oral exam – rattling off population statistics and geographical facts as if to prove he’s got foreign policy down cold. At the same time, Romney was unable to differentiate his views from those that have been advanced by the president in the last four years, thus leaving his position diminished. “What you just heard Governor Romney say,” Obama observed, “is he doesn’t have different ideas, and that’s because we’re doing exactly what we should be doing to try to promote a moderate, Syrian leadership and a — an effective transition so that we get Assad out. That’s the kind of leadership we’ve shown. That’s the kind of leadership we’ll continue to show.”

Why did Romney get caught in this strategic bind? The answer lies in two places. First, women have become increasingly important in the last stages of this campaign. While mostly male commentators hailed Romney’s command of the first debate and claimed a tie in the second, what appeared to be excessive aggressiveness was a “turn off” for many women. By moderating his tone, Romney aimed at making women more comfortable with his candidacy, which simultaneously helped his move to capture the middle ground.

As Romney’s messages have become more centrist over the last few weeks, his poll numbers have improved. That’s why his implied commitment to finding bipartisan solutions was central to his closing arguments. “America’s going to come back. And for that to happen, we’re going to have to have a president who can work across the aisle,” he said. He went on to relate his experience in Massachusetts where the statehouse was controlled by Democrats.

This is a classic. But beware.

Just because Romney now says he wants to cooperate in a bipartisan way doesn’t mean other members of the Republican Party will agree. If Romney is indeed the centrist he once was in Massachusetts, there are structural reasons why as president he would have difficulty governing from the middle. A Romney election may well bring, on his coattails, many more conservatives to Congress. His base there will determine a great deal of what he can accomplish. In the foreign policy realm, where Romney has little personal experience, he will be heavily reliant on his advisors, most of whom are neocons as well as former Bush administration officials. On the domestic front, Romney will also be indebted to the party faithful. He will need to give many of them top spots in his administration. Since he will undoubtedly wish to seek a second term he will also be constrained by how close to the center he is allowed to get. Even John Boehner, as Speaker of the House, has not been able to restrain the effects of the Tea Party on his own capacity to lead.

It is worth remembering that George W. Bush ran a noteworthy centrist campaign in 2000. In the Bush- Gore debate at Wake Forest University on Oct. 11, 2000, Bush said: “I am worried about over-committing our military around the world. I want to be judicious in its use. I don’t think nation-building missions are worthwhile.”  A little more than two years after his election, the United States preemptively attacked Iraq—spurred on largely by the GOP’s neo-cons. Before Bush’s second term was over the United States was in engaged in what would turn out to be the two longest wars in US history, costing trillions of dollars to execute, and subjecting our troops to three, four and even five deployments.

I met Mitt Romney in 2008. One of four to have breakfast with the GOP candidate, I found him to be friendly, personable and smart.  Ultimately, however, I was more impressed by one Senator Barack Obama, whom I had seen, firsthand, solicit the opinions and ideas of people outside of Democratic circles. This inspired me to register as an Independent and support his bid for the presidency.

Last night the “real” Romney tacked back to the middle, but it may have been too little, too late. It is Romney’s bad luck that the extreme of his party is farther to the right than ever before. But he should still be judged on what he said during primary season. If Romney uttered unfortunate sound bites, it is to some degree an indication that he has been unable to stand up to members of his own party.

If Mitt Romney loses the presidency that he so deeply desires, his party will be partly to blame. But at the end of the day, it will be a Romney no one really knows who faces the voters at the ballot box.

23 thoughts on “Buyer Beware: Romney’s Tack to the Center

  1. Ms. Eisenhower, you put your finger on it with the phrase “Buyer beware”–the very fact that he keeps us guessing out to be a wake-up call like no other. But the more I see of Romney (or rather, the more he appears like a Cheshire Cat, fading in and out), the more convinced I am that there is really no mystery as to who he “really” is or what he “really” thinks.
    Romney appears to have no center because he is an adherent of classic laissez-faire economics. If you listen carefully you will see that he basically downplays the need to do anything at all. He was captured on video stating that he doesn’t have to worry about foreign policy because that’s what all those folks in the State Department are paid to do. In his view, the U.S. government would be like one huge corporation with himself as CEO, “his people” can take care of any problem with minimal interference from him — sort of the One-Minute Manager model.
    Romney’s comfort zone is the 1950’s. He appears to be stuck there, as if he simply shut down once the Sixties came around. There are a lot of people like him, but neither he nor they should be POTUS.
    The other telling feature is his habit of using first-person, as in “I’ will create jobs, “I” will fix whatever it is (“If the safety net is broken, I’ll fix it”). Does the man have any concept at all what he is getting into?
    Do we really want Alfred What-me-worry E. Newman for president?

  2. Thank you for your clear and insightful comments. I agree that the far right has become destructive to their party, and trying to appease and win their support was detrimental to Romney’s quest. To me, beyond what was said in the debates, how Mr. Romney and President Obama listened, countered, interrupted, sulked, smirked, extolled or showed frazzled edges told me much about how they likely do or would behave under the stresses of the white house. Shifting salesmanship is not what I want in a leader.

  3. This pretty much spells out how Romney’s foreign policy will lead to another economic disaster not unlike the Bush administration’s:

    “Out of Romney’s 24 special advisors on foreign policy, 17 served in the Bush-Cheney administration. If Romney were to win, it’s likely that many of these people would serve in his administration in some capacity — a frightening prospect given the legacy of this particular group. The last time they were in government, it was disastrous.”

    “Obama has placed emphasis on negotiations. In this current election for the US presidency, his hands are tied. He cannot proceed, because he cannot appear soft on Israel’s security.
    Negotiating with Iran is perceived as a sign of beginning to forsake Israel. That is where I think the basic difference is between Romney and Obama. What Romney is doing is mortally destroying any chance of a resolution without war. Therefore when [he recently] said, he doesn’t think there should be a war with Iran, this does not ring true. It is not consistent with other things he has said. […]
    Obama does think there is still room for negotiations. It’s a very courageous thing to say in this atmosphere.
    In the end, this is what I think: Making foreign policy on Iran a serious issue in the US elections — what Romney has done, in itself — is a heavy blow to the ultimate interests of the United States and Israel.”

    — Efraim Halevy former chief of the Israeli intelligence service under 3 Israeli prime ministers

    ‘When asked about the consequences of war in Iran, [economist Nouriel] Roubini sees prolonged high oil prices “$170, $180, $200 a barrel” and warned of the knock-on consequences: “the last three major global recessions … were all caused by a geopolitical shock in the Middle East that led to spike in oil prices.” But Bremmer’s not buying all the war hype: “the Obama administration does not want to engage in military strikes against Iran — and they sure as hell are going to resist it, no matter what — before the elections.”‘

  4. We the People have a big problem. We the People have created it and I question if We the People have the desire and resolve to solve it. It’s chanted the nation’s foremost challenge is jobs creation, I don’t buy or sell it. It’s smoke and mirrors for other agendas. Our biggest problem is the leadership paralysis created by US. Jobs, the economy, defense, political and social issues are problematic and can be overcome by good old American ingenuity and tenacity. But those Americans have been pushed aside and speak in the wings. With this critical oncoming election We the People have a choice between a businessman and a dreamer. Both are needed. We the People have a choice between two party philosophies; one of fiscal responsibilities and individual ownership and one of social compassion and imaginative visions for our tomorrows. Both are needed. We the People have created this problem…we own it. As Americans we look into the words of our Constitution for guidance yet it is the very Constitution itself that is the symbol for our survival and achievements. We will not solve this problem with the coming election but we can start to disassemble the walls that divide our country by having faith in compromising for the common good. We the People must demand our leaders begin this process. The idea of the common good is what makes We the People unique in the world and is what will get us out of this mess we made.

    Thanks Susan for your continued clarity and inspiration for us to try to see things for what they are.

  5. Susan,

    With all due respect, my feeling is that a president should lead from the front rather than kicking problems down the road waiting for the other party to act so that his party can demagogue them for acting (i.e. Social Security and Medicare).

    A president that is a true leader doesn’t set up commissions to determine what spending cuts need to be made and then ignores those commissions.

    An honest president would not require sequestration as an alternative to abiding by those commissions and then turn around and tell the people the other night that sequestration will not happen. Unless, of course, he’s secretly decided to abide by the recommendations of that last commission.

    A president who claims he can reach across the aisle would not ask for a 1 year extension on the debt ceiling, and when the Republican House gives him what he asked for, then run to the Democratic Senate and their three month extension simply so that he can make the Republican’s look bad.

    Obviously, Romney did not sound as knowledgeable on foreign policy as President Obama in the last debate. How could he, when Obama has been making foreign policy and Romney hasn’t? But I’m hardly impressed with a president that ignores warnings of a pending terrorist attack, lacks the foresight to protect our embassies on the anniversary of 9/11, and responds so poorly after the attack.

    Gene Stevens,
    SFC, USA (retired)

  6. Kudos Susan as always on yet another insiteful blog. On Monday nite, Obama
    ‘ate Willard Romney’s lunch” on foreign policy, etc. BUT as often as he could’ve embarassed/eviscerated Romney he chose not to & let him “off the ropes”. Part of that allows me to view him @a gentleman & deferential, BUT most of it “DRIVES ME ABSOLUTELY CRAZY” so close to such a closely contested election!! He is still lacking that “KNOCK-OUT” mentality which both frustrates & scares me to death!!.

  7. Once again Susan…right on the mark!!!
    In this time in history, we can-not have a President who will flip flop and “get back to us”…rather one that acts in the best interest of The U.S.. Folks somehow seem to forget the mess this administration inherited with the massive war debts and the free ride of wall Street under GW…how soon America forgets…I am quite amazed how uniformed most are about where we came from the 8 years before the President took office and the massive “chaos” behind the scenes right here at home and globally…it’s just so easy to complain and be sucked in by rhetoric and untruths…
    Thanks for keeping the info coming right on time and accurate Susan !!!

  8. Ann, thanks for the interest. BHO had petty, arrogant, rude, and sadly immature responses to Romeny. If you doubt me, please go back and listen to the debate. For instnace, Why would BHO attack Romney on China investments, when he is doing exactly the same thing. Why would BHO attack Romeny on policy, when he is doing exactly the same thing.

    My answer is simple: both men would sell a parent to be Prez.

    The real question for voters is who will do the best job on the USA economy during the next four years? Our nation is in trouble. We have NO CHOICE but to cut spending. The days of no stop borrow and spend are OVER! PLEASE WAKE UP!

    For those that have their hair standing on end, i ask you a simple question: Does the economy need a turn around expert or a legal professor? The decision is up to the voters….not just you and I . A

    Ann, if I have insulted you or hurt your feelings, I ask for your forgiveness,

    Susan – Like Ike, you are a very special person who can sit in the middle of a divided nation. Many thanks for providing a place with a different perspective……

    Thank you for this blog.

  9. A good analysis and much appreciated. Phyllis and I didn’t see the debate as we were flying from NYC to Denver, and my recording it didn’t work. I am waiting for my 6 year old grandson to get it for me on the web. i did see several clips of the discussion, and thought of your other blog when Obama talked about horses, bayonets and aircraft carriers. I don’t know if there is a “real” Romney or just a Zellick running for President. He “cooperated” with the Democrates when he was Governor, because he had no choice. He brought woman into his cabinet because, again, he was forced to do so. We were at the Denver Historical Museum where CPBS was filming a review. Former Gov. Lamb commented that Romney could work with the Democrate’s but he would be captive to the Tea Party and the right wing of the party, just as you stated a la Boehner. Romney has no rudder or basis plan and lies even more than most. Thanks and best regards, Bob

    On Tue, Oct 23, 2012 at 2:12 PM, wrote:

    > ** > Susan Eisenhower posted: “Last night I almost felt sorry for > presidential aspirant, Mitt Romney. You had the impression he was in the > middle of an oral exam – rattling off population statistics and > geographical facts as if to prove he’s got foreign policy down cold. At the > sam”

  10. Bravo! You’ve pinned the rose where it belongs- on the far right
    The intransigence and intolerance of Romney’s party (I hesitate to call it the Republican party) have painted him into such a corner that, to have a chance, he appears to have no core. Romney, the governor of Massachusetts, would have easily won the general election if it had been at all plausible to win the nomination. But as you correctly observed, this nominee, if elected, will owe a huge debt to the hard right regardless of how much he now moves to the center.
    We need open primaries everywhere to empower moderates.

  11. I understand and appreciate your comments, but my personal opinion is that the only person who can and will help change Ike’s memorial is Mitt Romney. Obama has done nothing to help you, but you have done and continue to do much for him – so true for so many others who went out on a limb for him in 2008 and have been left disillusioned with his failed leadership. Being a Hilary supporter, I say this with a sad heart as I watched her being totally ignored in last night’s debate. As always, with Obama, it is all about him. How diametrically opposite from Ike he is. Again, mark my words, your grandfather’s appropriate memorial will see its true, rightful, and deserved expression in the next administration – or, we’ll have to wait for Hilary in 2016!

  12. Nixon would have been embarassed by Romney’s performance last night. He was pathetic.
    He must have had Mali on the brain. Or was it a subtle, racist jab at the President’s African roots? His constant pandering to Israels offends even the clear thinking Israelis. They know that at $5 million per day in U.S. foreign aid that no U.S. President will abandon them. He probsbly cut a deal with Bibi to “sponsor” Bibi’s travel when both are out of office. Romney sems to yearn for a return to the Cold War with Russia. He’s quick on the draw, but how many of his prvileged sons will fight and die for his private wars? Prep School Mitt should live out his years at horse shows and running the Olympics in another hotspot, maybe Innsbruck or Lake Placid. Go away Mitt.

  13. I remember 2000 and W’s tack, as well as his surrogates such as Zoellick and Doug Paal promising an administration that would adhere better to alliances. Romney will govern with a party far more conservative –and in the House one that really thinks it is in charge–than W contended with. We shall see if the first debate of 2012 goes into history as the first debate of 1960.

  14. Susan, leadership qualities are hard to define yet easy to spot. President Obama stands heads and shoulders above Governor Romney. Your observations help me understand why I see this.

    Thank you,

  15. Spot on. Incredible that the time on the debate went 4 for 4 favoring the Democrats. After your rant on Romney being confrontational, not a word on BHO and his endless petty interruptions. No wonder BHO has failed to bring Congress to the table. Who would deal with a man under pressure that acts az our President in the last debate. He lost me due to his petty rudeness. In Kansas, we do not treat anyone this way. Keep up the good work.

  16. Right on! Great insight. I wish everyone would read your sensible blogs.
    We need to remember how President Eisenhower put country and principle over partisanship as a model of effective bi-partisan presidential leadership. That’s a fine model for us today.

  17. Thank you so much for this; i have passed this on.
    p.s.: Romney sweated just like Dick Nixon.

  18. How nice to read a genuine moderate! How tragic it is that American politics have become so visceral and polarised… It is exactly the fact that Romney will bring in non-moderate Tea Party Republicans in his coat tails if he wins that makes his election so scary… Oh for the days of Mark Hatfield and moderate Republican Senators (think of Olympia Snowe…) and decency back in US politics again.

  19. I agree with you. I’m aware that foreign policy is not Romney’s strong point, but he did seem out of his league last night. I almost felt sorry for him because he had the deer in the headlights look, like he knew this was a disaster for him. I felt it in the first few minutes of the debate as I had felt it for Obama in the first debate. It is interesting to watch all the predictable spinning, but last night Romney did not look presidential.

    I love your column. Thank you for sending it to me. I’ve sent it to a few other people. chuck


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