New and improved Romney

He's more fiscal, less social. And he's got millions. But will GOP voters give a Mitt?
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  February 12, 2010

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READ: David S. Bernstein on Romney's new book.
Scott Brown's unexpected victory in last month's special US Senate election captured the attention of the country — and particularly of core Republican voters, who huddled eagerly before their TV screens to watch their hero du jour give his acceptance speech. But even in the midst of his moment in the sun, Brown made sure to thank the other handsome, well-coifed man on the stage, Mitt Romney — who, as it happens, would very much like the votes of that national Republican audience in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries.

Granted, it's very early in the 2012 presidential cycle, and if you ask the Romney camp, they'll profess him to be focused exclusively on helping GOP candidates this November. But make no mistake: Romney is in the process of re-launching himself for 2012.

His new book — No Apology: The Case for American Greatness — comes out in two weeks, and he'll be promoting it with a tour blitz that starts on The View and quickly heads to the crucial first-voting state of Iowa. This weekend, he's scheduled to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, DC, which will conduct a 2012 presidential straw poll. And he is already busy traveling the country, raising money for himself and other Republicans, to maintain and grow his national network.

From the looks of it, the 2012 version of Romney will be somewhat different than the one that lost in 2008. In that campaign, Romney tacked hard to the right — where Romney and his strategists perceived an opening as the conservative alternative to front-runners John McCain and Rudy Giuliani.

In retrospect, Team Romney believes their strategy was in error, according to some who are familiar with the campaign's post-election brainstorming. Although exit polls showed that he did well among the most ideological conservatives — particularly those most adamantly opposed to McCain's immigration-reform stance — he was not able to win over religious Christian conservatives. That left him unable to make up for sacrificing the votes of relatively moderate primary-goers.

In a nutshell, he made himself too conservative for blue-state Republicans, who opted for McCain, but wasn't conservative enough for red-state conservatives, who opted for Mike Huckabee.

"He was a Massachusetts moderate who tried to be a hard-right conservative," says one Republican strategist. "It turned out he probably would have been better off sticking with what he was — Mr. Fix-It."

"He got himself caught up in the social-issues debate," says Bill Achtmayer, chairman of business-strategy consultants the Parthenon Group and a supporter of Romney, his former colleague at Bain Consulting. "It diverted people's attention from what he does bring to the table."

As a result, the new Romney is now de-emphasizing social issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and illegal immigration. He has made no public comment, for instance, about last week's announcement that top military leaders intend to end the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, has scrupulously avoided association with the Tea Party movement, and has refrained from backing conservatives that other presidential hopefuls have endorsed, such as Doug Hoffman in New York or Marco Rubio in Florida.

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  Topics: Talking Politics , Mitt Romney, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty,  More more >
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