Robert Draper’s piece in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine provided a fascinating before-and-after assessment of Mitt Romney. His tilt to the right—“veer” might be more accurate–had its genesis in 2004 when political consultant Beth Myers assumed responsibility for managing and fulfilling Mitt Romney’s presidential aspirations. Myers had been around the Republican block, working in Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign where, overseeing voter I.D. programs in rural Texas, she became a protege of Karl Rove.
Myers gets the credit, or blame, for constructing and rolling out the “new” Mitt Romney, and continues to serve as a key strategist. Reading the article, what struck me was the ease with which Mitt Romney reversed core beliefs, a process that he innocently refers to as changing his mind, which others term flip-flopping, and which I euphemistically call adopting Newly Cultivated Positions, or NCPs.
In 2004, the Romney Repositioning Campaign began in earnest, as Myers sought to transform him into a product more pleasing to the palate of conservative primary voters, activists, and donors — the Republican Party gatekeepers
Draper shows that Romney’s arc was not a thoughtful transformation but nakedly calculated, not the result of deep soul searching but transparently political.
Myer’s single-handedly squashed Romney’s alignment with the climate change movement, in which he was playing a leadership role. At Myer’s urging, Romney met with a number of opinion leaders in conservative circles, who helped him craft rationales and shape messages to explain his mounting list of policy and position reversals. Featured on his collection of Greatest Hits: the environment, abortion rights, stem cell research, gun control and, of course, healthcare reform.
Romney’s political transformation was conducted efficiently and routinely, not unlike a baseball player who shows up to work and is told he’s been traded. He packs his bags, catches the next flight, and by the time the first pitch is thrown, he’s already in the dugout, decked out in a new uniform and with new teammates.
These days players change teams so frequently that it no longer shocks the fans, the same way flip-flopping on core principals no longer shocks the voters. The ease with which players change teams and loyalties has contributed to cynicism among fans who are reluctant to grow attached to players they once considered heroes. Likewise, in American politics, flip-flopping–and the loss of credibility that goes with it –has contributed to a growing sense of alienation and indifference among many voters.
Draper leaves me with the feeling that Romney’s transformation was wholly and entirely political, as carefully calculated as it was flippantly fabricated. It was as if he were trying on a suit. If it didn’t quite fit, well then, he would simply make it fit…nothing that a little tailoring can’t fix.
The question remains: Can voters tell the difference? And do they care?
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