Everything in Michael Kranish and Scott Helman’s biography “The Real Romney” (HarperCollins) confirms the view that until 2005 Mitt Romney was a liberal Republican cryogenically preserved from the pre-Reagan era. He was a liberal on social issues, such as abortion and gay rights; a champion of government programs, such as universal health care; an anti-protectionist, “open door” internationalist; a private-sector multimillionaire who was also a personal square, completely uninterested in life-style “experimentation”; a reflexively patriotic, flag-pin-in-the-lapel sort of fellow; a wealthy man possessed of the slightly daft notion that although he had been born to privilege, every American has the opportunity (and the wish) to live as he does; a patrician with a deep sense of noblesse oblige. Since 2005, Romney has made himself interesting by getting a lot of people, including those who might vote for him and those who definitely will not, obsessed with whether, and to what extent, and in spite of anything to the contrary he might be saying on the campaign trail, he is still that person.
Today, Democrats are enjoying the spectacle of the well-financed, well-endorsed, sometimes preeningly self-confident Romney getting beat up in primary contests by the ideological equivalents of what prizefighters call tomato cans. But, as is often the case in politics, what doesn’t kill him will make him stronger. Those political palookas are performing the service of identifying the anti-Romney voters as fringe voters—people who have nutty ideas about government, or who are just angry at modern life.
If Romney can dodge and feint his way past all his strange opponents, and discreetly shed some of the culture-war rhetoric he is finding himself obliged to mouth (which may be a challenge), he might arrive in November looking like a plausible candidate of the center, which is the way all Presidential candidates aspire to look. Then it might be the white-shoe Wall Street establishment of fifty years ago against the embodiment of twenty-first-century post-ethnic America. Fantasy politics, but for real stakes.