Romney, in the spirit of Reagan
REALITY IS starting to sink in among Republican primary voters. Despite all their beseeching, there will be no Sir Galahad riding to the rescue. The current field is the one they must choose from — and the man who seems most likely to be nominated is Mitt Romney.
Yes, it’s true that when it comes to issue positions, Romney definitely believes in evolution. Which is why Texas Governor Rick Perry’s camp this week gleefully e-mailed around a “Daily Show’’ send-up of Romney’s flip-flops.
Those are fair game, of course. Still, discussions of Romney’s ideological flexibility have overshadowed his many estimable qualities. So today, this column comes to praise Romney, not to harry him.
Since Ronald Reagan is the Republican Party’s patron saint, let’s use him as a point of comparison. Reagan had a first-rate temperament, and unlike some of the sourpusses who have likened themselves to the Gipper over the years, Mitt is a congenial and gracious guy. In private, he’s warm, engaging, and adept at putting people at ease. Like Reagan, he loves to laugh, and can be quite funny. In his political relationships, Romney instinctively understands what, in less polarized times, used to be a cardinal rule of politics: Don’t make enemies unnecessarily. Even people who disagree strongly with him find him personable and pleasant.
He’s also Reaganesque in this way: He’s a smooth and articulate speaker. Early on, Romney sometimes made odd rhetorical miscues, such as when he cited the Sept. 11 hijackers as an example of the way large, slow forces were giving way to more nimble, inventive ones.
But over the years, Romney has become an accomplished communicator. Indeed, at that task, he would be the strongest Republican nominee since the Great Communicator himself.
Add to that Reaganesque foundation the skills Romney developed in business or learned as governor. As a problem-solver, he’s hungry for facts and information. He developed his data-driven ways during his days searching for deals and turnaround strategies at Bain Capital. He continued them as governor, at least when issues didn’t have an overtly ideological overlay. (Sadly, we haven’t seen that same admirably analytic trait in his approach to the federal budget deficit.) Romney also likes to hear opposing points of view, and in private meetings, encourages others to challenge his thinking.
He’s both a good manager and a good judge of talent. Romney ran a clean, scandal-free administration during his single term as Massachusetts governor, and, given the Democratic composition of the Legislature, was reasonably effective. What’s more, he’s not one of those politicians who seems like a nice guy in public, but is a tough, belittling boss in private. He’s quite good to his staff, and for that reason, inspires personal loyalty.
He’s also very disciplined. Because he does his homework, he is seldom ill-prepared, which means he doesn’t get caught off-guard often.
Although he spent much - too much - of his single term as governor laying the groundwork for his presidential campaign, when he put his mind to it, he demonstrated that he could work productively with the Democratic Legislature. The best example: His role developing and pushing the state’s landmark health care reform law. There, he struck a de facto alliance with then Senate President Robert Travaglini, thereby building bipartisan support for the more moderate, business-friendly approach they preferred.
That law has actually worked quite well (though one would never know it from reading the Wall Street Journal’s editorials). Unfortunately for Romney, the politics of health care reform went sour once national Democrats adopted the Massachusetts model for ObamaCare. Still, despite the GOP’s aversion to the national law, Romney has dealt with that liability better than his principal Republican rivals have managed their own real or potential pitfalls.
Romney’s personable, pragmatic brand of politics may not appeal to combative conservatives. Yet that same style gives him real reach with moderates and centrists.
And the middle, after all, is where elections are won.
Scot Lehigh can be reached at email@example.com.