New and improved Romney

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  February 12, 2010

No Apology, and a series of planned speeches Romney will give during his book tour, will drive home that shift in emphasis. Advance word on the book, plus an audio excerpt released on the Web, make clear that it avoids those topics, and focuses on Romney's vision of maintaining America's fiscal and military superiority.

Interestingly, this latest incarnation is probably the closest we have seen to the "real" Mitt Romney — who close observers believe doesn't care much about social issues, isn't very ideological, and revels in applying management skills to large organizations to help them achieve their goals and functions.

Several Republicans, including some who know Romney well, say that, if he runs in 2012, it will be much more as his true self than what he presented in 2008.

But some of those same people concede that, as a political strategy, there are two big potential hazards to "letting Mitt be Mitt." First, Romney's previous reinventions — as a fairly liberal US Senate candidate, a moderate gubernatorial candidate, and then as a conservative presidential candidate — have already strained his credibility beyond the breaking point. Any further change — even to become the real, authentic Romney — will be viewed with suspicion, if not derision.

Perhaps more important, the real Mitt Romney — Harvard MBA, political scion, hard-working businessman, super-wealthy master of Wall Street offerings, devout Mormon — might not be what Republican primary voters actually want.

Much has changed since Romney decided to chase hard-core conservative votes four years ago. At that time, Romney was nationally unknown and needed a way to distinguish himself from a group of second-tier potential candidates.

Today, Republican insiders and political analysts say that Romney is already the de facto front-runner, regardless of whether he says he's running or not, thanks to his name recognition, his proven fundraising ability, and his established national operation. Others are either unknown, untested, or — like Sarah Palin — too flaky.

On top of that, he is the natural heir for the GOP, which, in the modern nomination era, has tended strongly toward candidates who have run and lost before — Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, and McCain — much like a white-shoe law firm passing someone over for making partner, but assuring them that their continued loyalty to the company will be rewarded next time. (The one exception has been George W. Bush, who was hastily promoted as the son of the chairman emeritus.)

Of the '08 losers, Romney best fits that mold. And he has been proving his party loyalty, first by campaigning faithfully for McCain against Obama, and then by raising money for candidates and party committees.

"Mitt Romney is 'next'," says Mike Dennehy, a political consultant in New Hampshire and senior policy advisor to McCain's 2008 campaign.

Plus, at least for the moment, pressing economic and foreign-policy concerns seem to have sent to the back burner the social issues that dogged Romney in '08. "It looks like the environment is shaping up to be favorable to him," says Dennehy. "Mitt Romney is the guy to beat. He's positioned himself real well since the 2008 election."

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Related: Elephant in the Room, Joe Paolino weighs a different kind of mayoral run, Mickey Mouse Multiculturalism, More more >
  Topics: Talking Politics , Social Issues, Harvard Business School, John McCain,  More more >
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