THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Scot Lehigh

The New Mitt: Same as the Old Mitt

By Scot Lehigh
December 17, 2010

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A WHILE back, an article about the Romney camp’s post-mortem on Mitt’s 2008 presidential run caught my eye.

Upon reflection, some members of Team Romney had apparently come to the conclusion that the Mittster had tried too hard to appeal (read: pander) to the conservative purists. Next time, some suggested, Romney would play to his strengths, establishing himself as a smart, pragmatic, solutions-oriented Mr. Fix-It.

Granted, it seemed to have taken Mitt’s inner circle an awful long time to arrive at the obvious. Still, the piece was encouraging to those who over the years have admired Romney in his various non-right-wing, non-pandering personae. His managerial talents are undeniable; they could prove a strong campaign calling card if Romney can keep his next run from becoming another credibility-eroding exercise in self-caricature. Which could be done if Romney and his team finally decide who he truly is — and apply some super-strength fixative to that identity. A difficult challenge, given the endlessly malleable and morphing Mitt of the last election cycle? No doubt. Still, in a world where scientists have succeeded in isolating and capturing anti-matter, however fleetingly, it’s surely not an impossible one.

So I’ve kept a watchful eye on the putatively non-pandering, serious, big-thinking, solution-seeking new Mitt. As far as Romney-watching goes, December has been a month to remember. Alas, it’s my sad duty to report that something seems to be amiss.

Exhibit A: Earlier this month, Romney came out against the new nuclear arms control treaty the Obama administration has negotiated with Russia. That’s odd, given the array of respected foreign-policy experts who have blessed the treaty. That list includes luminaries like George H.W. Bush. And Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser to both Gerald Ford and that President Bush. And James Baker, Bush’s secretary of state. And George Shultz, secretary of state under Ronald Reagan. And Henry Kissinger, national security adviser and secretary of state during the Nixon-Ford years.

What’s more, the treaty now appears to have enough Republican senators aboard to win the two-thirds vote it needs in the Senate. So who is opposed? Mostly hard-core conservatives — the kind the New Mitt wasn’t going to pander to.

Next, Romney denounced the tax cut deal congressional Republicans cut with President Obama.

Could it be that, ace budgeteer that he is, Romney judged it unaffordable in a time of huge deficits? No, his objection was that the political pact didn’t make the Bush tax cuts permanent. Mind you, Mitt did mention the deficit, but only as ammunition for extending the tax cuts forever.

“In many cases,’’ he wrote in USA Today on Tuesday, “lowering taxes can actually increase government revenues . . . But . . . because the tax deal is temporary, a large portion of this beneficent effect is missing.’’

Actually, the assertion that income tax cuts garner the government more revenue than they cost is closer to theology than to economics. There’s widespread agreement among credible economists that, at anything near our current rates of taxation, income tax cuts do not pay for themselves.

A man as smart as Romney surely knows that. Yet by applying a dollop of supply-side snake-oil, he turned professed concern about the deficit into a disingenuous argument for a tax-cutting position whose consequences would be even more debt.

Topping it all off, Romney’s camp next announced Mitt agreed with US District Judge Henry Hudson that the individual mandate in President Obama’s new health care law is unconstitutional. But wait, wasn’t ObamaCare modeled on RomneyCare? And doesn’t RomneyCare have a similar requirement?

Now, when it comes to verbal escapes, Slick Willard, Mitt’s dodgy doppelganger, is a virtual Houdini. So you won’t want to miss the hair-splitting it will take for him to inveigh against the federal law even as he defends the state statute that served as its model.

Still, for those eagerly awaiting the new, improved 2012 Romney, a word of caution: Don’t get your hopes too high. So far, the prototype suffers from many of the same flaws that plagued the 2008 model Mitt.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com.