Mitt Romney has a new book out, which means that the former Massachusetts Governor is ready to thrust himself back into the public eye. His publicity tour has already taken him to The Late Show, The View and Fox News, all of which will help boost book sales. It also helps fuel speculation that Romney's planning a 2012 presidential campaign, a possibility Romney readily admits. But his supporters should take a closer look, because Romney has again proved that he's a masterful flip-flopper, particularly when it comes to populism.
Much of the early press about Romney's book, No Apology, has revolved around his opposition to President Obama. The President, claims Republican Romney, endangers our economy and security by pandering to anti-American sentiment abroad.
"Never before in American history has its president gone before so many foreign audiences to apologize for so many American misdeeds, both real and imagined," writes Romney in his book. "There are anti-American fires burning all across the globe; President Obama's words are like kindling to them."
That's quite a statement. And it's understandable people would seize on the one-term governor's remarks. Far fewer people, meanwhile, have noted that Romney's taking an equally provocative position against populism, by far one of the most powerful political forces in play today.
Speaking with Boston Globe journalist Sasha Issenberg, Romney explains that he wants to fight the "temptations of populism." That populism, Romney explained, revolves around "demonizing certain members of society: going after businesspeople, going after Wall Street, going after people who are highly educated, people who are CEOs. He went on to describe such thinking as "unproductive." Romney must have had quite the change of heart since ending his 2008 presidential bid, because just over two years ago, with his campaign struggling, Romney in fact embraced populism.
With a net worth of at least $250 million, Romney is by far one of the wealthiest political leaders in America. That fortune became quite divisive during the 2008 race, when rivals like Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson played it up to separate him from the Republican party's working class base. Taking a dig at Romney, Huckabee said at the time, "For my family, summer was never a verb." What a hit!
Romney soon distanced himself from his Wall Street credentials and joined the Main Street masses, telling a crowd in January of that year, "It's time for the politicians to go and the citizens to come into Washington!" He also labeled McCain's 2005 attempt at immigration reform as nothing more than "amnesty," declaring, "Do you want a nominee who helped write McCain-Kennedy that gave amnesty to illegal immigrants?" The answer at the time was a resounding "no."
Now, however, Romney is distancing himself from the populist movement's "anti-immigrant" mentality, telling Issenberg, "Populism sometimes takes the form of being anti-immigrant, and appearing anti-immigrant, and that likewise is destructive to [the] nation." Romney's move sends a signal to big business and potential donors that he, the consummate businessman, has their backs. He's also telling immigrant communities that he's not as virulent as some of his conservative peers.
Romney's apparent flip-flopping should come as no surprise. He has a long history of changing his tune when political advantageous. Back in 2002, when he was running for governor, Romney claimed to be on the side of gay rights. Once he won the race, however, he did an about face and used his powers to fight equality. Then, during the 2008 election, he used his opposition to help harvest right wing support. The same thing happened with abortion, which he once appeared to believe in, until the religious right cried foul. Today he refuses to touch on those issues, perhaps because the Republican strategists are advising political hopefuls not to wade in those murky waters.
Romney's a shrewd politician who rides the zeitgeist and adapts his tactics to fit with the times, and the opportunity. He's wise not to touch on explosive social matters. If he were wiser, however, he would realize that populism is just as divisive today as gay marriage and abortion were in the past. And, like those issues, his current position could very well blow up in his face.