Mitt Romney is now the presumptive Republican nominee for president and after tomorrow's round of GOP primaries, that result will be all but official. He has managed to be the last man standing in a field notorious for its extremism on the one hand and transparent lunacy on the other. In doing so, however, he has raised the political flip-flop to an art form.
He was pro-choice as the GOP Governor of Massachusetts from 2004 to 2007 and now says he is not.
He was for gay rights when he ran the Bay State and now claims to have gotten right-wing religion on that issue as well.
He more or less invented the individual mandate as a practical alternative to near universal health care in Massachusetts, a feat justly praised when he accomplished it in the middle of the last decade as his erstwhile opponent Ted Kennedy stood proudly by his side while he signed the bill...
But now he pledges to repeal the mandate at the federal level, and -- if the Supreme Court follows the hints all those conservative justices tossed out at the recent oral argument on the ostensible un-Constitutionality of Obamacare's mandate -- acquiesce in its repeal at any state level as well.
In sum, a few years ago Mitt Romney was a moderate Republican Governor, the trifecta of a throwback to (1) his Dad (himself a moderate Governor of Michigan in the '60s), (2) the well-traveled road of GOP moderation in Massachusetts itself (see Gov. Weld, Sen. Brooke, Gov. Peabody, etc.), and (3) the historic moderation and at times progressivism of the national GOP (see Teddy Roosevelt, Charles Percy, Clifford Case, Jacob Javits; indeed, even Nixon, the author of the EPA and OSHA as president from 1968 to 1974). Today, however, Romney professes to be the right wing's standard bearer, all the moderation and progress of his former self thrown by the wayside in his single-minded obsession to become the 2012 Republican Presidential nominee.
Romney, of course, will now try to tack to the center. His campaign manager all but told us that a few weeks ago, comparing the primary and general election campaigns to separate Etch-A-Sketches where the latter can simply erase the former. So as we head to the general election, we can expect Romney to tone down his love affair with the right wing and -- at least in the swing states -- dust off his former Massachusetts moderate self for a re-appearance this fall.
This presents an enormous problem for the American electorate.
For Romney, more than any recent candidate for President of the United States, has basically bet his electability on which of his various selves the voters think will show up on Jan. 20, 2013 if he is actually elected.
And we now have to decide.
The simplest answer -- indeed, the one which most base Democrats will immediately embrace -- is that Romney cannot be trusted. One who careens with equal ease from utterly incommensurable positions is playing the voter for the fool. Case closed.
But for the independents out there, the case will not be closed. They will give Romney the chance to make his case. In fact, with polls tightening as the Republican primary season closes and the general election effectively upon us, they already are.
So the question remains...
Which Romney will show up on Jan. 20?
Fortunately, the answer is simple.
It'll be the guy who strapped his dog Seamus to the hood of a car years ago as he undertook a day-long journey to his vacation spot while the poor beast hysterically unleashed its innards.
The dog-on-the-roof story has been around for awhile and from time to time rears its (from Romney's viewpoint) ugly head. Gail Collins of the New York Times has, shall we say, doggedly kept the story alive in her own twice-weekly column. And now a number of independent groups have decided to run with it (full disclosure: as the owner of a rescue dog, a deaf and blind shih-tzu, I am the Chair of one of them; for any interested, the web site is www.mittismean.org). The response of the Romney campaign, the RNC, and Romney supporters as a whole has been derisive. Tey basically maneuver from a smug "Are you serious" -- using the large issues this election will decide to blow off what amounted to either animal cruelty or weird insensitivity -- to an incredible "The dog really liked the trip." The latter, of course, is unbelievable on its face and turns out to be false in fact.
Because the first thing poor Seamus did when Mitt finally arrived at his destination was...
Which is exactly what we should do this November.
Because the dog on the roof story is not a joke. In fact, it tells us a lot more about Mitt than his tenure as a businessman, a Massachusetts governor, or a presidential candidate. Yes, the guy comes off as a robotic automaton, and yes, in those years as a leverage buy-out specialist at Bain & Co., he destroyed more American jobs than he created, and yes, he has flip-flopped his way to the GOP nomination -- and airbrushed his gubernatorial term along the way -- with the grandeur of a political Houdini who thinks we won't notice.
But the real problem is this.
Mitt doesn't care.
He is an ends-justifies-the-means kinda guy. Once he decides to go somewhere, he does not for a moment worry about how he'll get there, who he'll run over, who will fall by the wayside, what things will be like when he finally arrives, or what promises he made on the way. He has demonstrated this with abandon in his presidential campaign.
But it has always been there...
And always will...
And if Seamus could talk...
He'd tell you so.