THE BLOG
10/25/2012 03:18 pm ET | Updated Dec 25, 2012

Romney Agonistes

I am from New York.

But last week went to Virginia.

And was finally in a state where there actually is a presidential campaign.

Here in New York, safely blue, we are besieged with information from the under-ticket. No presidential candidate need apply. I know, for example, that one of my Congressional candidates, Sean Patrick Maloney (he always uses the Patrick, though I doubt anyone questions his ethnicity), will preserve Medicare and the right of women to make their own health care choices, and that his opponent will not. I then find out, however, that his opponent, Rep. Nan Hayworth, a so-called Tea Partier elected in 2010, will do the same, or so she says. I know she was for the Ryan budget, and so have more than some doubts about this. But all her fellow-travelers in the GOP are singing from the same hymnal, doing their best to convince us that they are...

What they clearly are not.

Mitt Romney, of course, has written the book on this.

And added yet another chapter to it in his debate this week with President Obama.

The topic this time was foreign policy, but the same feigning Mitt showed up. In Denver, the candidate for the $5 trillion tax cut, $2 trillion defense increase, and junking of Obamacare became the candidate without the cut or the increase and with a ban on exclusions for pre-existing conditions and an extension of parental coverage for kids. In Boca Raton, the policies changed but the approach did not. This time, pace his recent and not so recent past, there was no red line on Iran's nukes and certainly no war, no disagreement on the 2014 deadline for pulling out of Afghanistan, and no disagreement on Pakistan.

In his previous life, Romney had so berated Obama for weakness on Iran that, given the actual strength of the sanctions regime (it is literally putting the Iranians on rations), his policy alternative had to be viewed as favoring a military strike. He had also joined John McCain in committing to not violate Pakistan' sovereignty without their permission (which would have made the bin Laden raid either impossible or ineffective). In Boca Raton, however, the candidate (and party) that ignored Osama bin Laden for 10 years was forced to praise the president who didn't, and sanctions-shaped diplomacy replaced neo-con sabre rattling as the policy of choice on Iran.

Even when he went off topic, Romney stayed in character.

When the debate strayed into auto company bailout territory, laser-focused as both candiates were on the bail out's positive impact in Ohio, mutating Mitt claimed he was actually for federal assistance to the auto companies in 2009. This was a lie, or as they say these days, a post-truth. In fact, at the time the bail out was proposed, Romney said the auto companies should be forced to re-organize in a bankruptcy court. Unfortunately for Mitt, this is neither a place debtors go in search of federal assistance nor one where that assistance is given out.

In truth, the only real contrast the entire night was the one that blew up in Romney's face.

Earnestly -- but inaccurately -- asserting that his proposed defense increase was merely opposition to the sequestration that may occur later this year (the latter of which, by the way, neither he nor Obama can stop without Congressional action, which the GOP is now holding hostage so as to preserve Bush II's tax cuts for the wealthy ), Romney claimed our Navy was woefully under-equipped, noting that it had fewer ships today than in 1916. Obama's rejoinder was that the force structure had been set, in consultation with the Joint Chiefs and all three branches of the military, based on strategic concerns and that, in the line that broke records on Twitter, "We also have fewer horses and bayonets."

At which point, Romney just went back to agreeing with Obama, looking "presidential," and trying to make sure he didn't turn off the the last two undecided voters in Ohio... or Colorado... or New Hampshire.

Which was his only purpose from the outset.

Now, to be frank, there is a Shakespearean "doth protest too much" quality to all of us who lambast Mitt Romney for tacking to the center in a general election. They all do it and Romney is not the first, nor will he be the last, to raise political posturing to an art form. In fact, if that were all his 11th hour, 59th minute metamorphosis amounted to, it might very well say much that was negative about his character (as in "I'll do or say anything to get elected"), while at the same time saying a lot that was positive about his brain (as in "OK, I am really not that crazy and won't drive us off the cliff by actually implementing all that right-wing stuff").

Here, however, is the problem.

If elected, Romney won't be able to govern from the center, even if he has undergone a sort of road-to-Damascus conversion to common sense.

He won't be able to do this because no president governs alone, and Romney's party has no one in it who can implement a set of centrist policies. On the one hand, as Grover Norquist -- he of the "no tax" pledge in exchange for beaucoup de campaign contributions -- has made clear, the only job a Republican president has is "to sign [the] stuff" the right wing sends him. On the other, if you look for potential Republican cabinet secretaries who could implement a non-right wing agenda on either domestic or foreign policy, there are none.

To a man (and woman), the current crop of GOP governors has preached at the altar of tax and spending cuts, eliminating public sector unions, opposing cap and trade to bring down carbon emissions, and favoring oil and natural gas over renewables. Put simply, a set of Republican centrists to run HUD... or the Departments of Energy... or Health and Human Services... or Labor... or the EPA is unavailable. And on foreign policy the situation is even worse. Romney's secretary of state in waiting is John Bolton, and he is not against either going to war on Iran or out-sourcing the job to Israel.

So what Romney believes, or more importantly whether he believes anything, may not even matter.

If he is, as he pretended to be for virtually all of this and the last presidential campaign, a once-moderate governor now become a garden-variety Republican right-winger, the voters will reject him. But if he is the vague but discernible moderate whose mantle he donned in all three presidential debates, a guy who answers "Never left ya" to Bill Clinton's "Where ya been these last few years, I missed ya," the elites in his own party will reject them.

The reality is that Romney sought and obtained the nomination of the most conservative and extreme Republican Party in the modern era. It is layered with true believers running through Congress, the well-funded right-wing think tanks and corporate lobbyists, and the right-wing media of Ailes's Fox and Murdoch's NY Post. Its policies would take us back to the economics of the 19th century and the foreign policies of the first decade of this one. Romney could not have won the nomination without them. That was his problem. Ours is that he has no one to govern with...

Other than them.