At Right Speak's c-box today, commenter Ohio Joe noted that Romney is pandering to the Pablos of the Republican Party. If so, that is a sure way to lose the nomination as I do not represent a winning majority within conservative ranks. It really calls into question what 'pander' means. Nevertheless, I think that we should consider whether Romney really is a panderer.
No question, Romney pandered during the 2008 campaign. He was a right-of-center governor of MA that transformed himself into the bastion of conservatism on all issues. However, judging by Romney's moves since his exit from the primaries, the real Mitt Romney has stepped forward.
Noah Kristula-Green has an excellent article comparing the answers that both Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty gave to Larry Kudlow on CNBC. Romney refused to pander to Kudlow and the right wing populists when he said that he doesn't want a completely flat tax. Romney also refused to participate in the anti-Fed rhetoric that is growing in conservative circles (thanks Ron Paul). Most importantly, although Romney blasted Obamacare, he added that he wants to have legislation preventing companies from dropping people for pre-existing conditions. There was not a lot of red meat flying around on Kudlow's set, but there was some solid stances.
Romney was also one of the first national Republican leaders who answered the birther question by categorically denying the possibility of Barack Obama having been born outside the United States. The other candidates mostly fall into several categories: those who aren't sure where Obama was born (Trump), those who avoid the question and pander to the birthers (Bachmann, Huckabee?), and those who pander to the birthers and encourage birther investigations, yet later, after five minutes of pander, mention that they don't agree with them (Palin). Saying that Romney is an anti-panderer because he understands where Obama was born is, of course, setting the bar really (and I mean really) low. It's like saying a candidate is smart if he believes in gravity. But when you consider the polls that show such a large percentage of Republicans who believe this non-sense and when you see the way in which Trump has risen in presidential polls, it becomes apparent that Romney is actually being gutsy for believing in "gravity."
Romney's new anti-pandering persona began shortly after the 2008 elections. Then, he supported TARP. Now, he still believes that it was necessary despite the hysteria against it. His answers to his health care plan have been consistent, despite constant cries from some that he should "apologize" for it. Mitt has stated that he is proud of what he did in MA. I am proud that he is proud. Again, it shouldn't take a brave man to own up to his success. But the right-wing base is so paranoid right now about Obamacare, that they may be willing to crucify anyone responsible for anything that closely resembles the President's health care policies.
Then there is No Apology. I was quite surprised after having read Romney's book how little pandering he does. He believes in global warming and that human activity contributes to it. He devotes an entire chapter to reforming entitlement spending. He recognizes that the United States needs to concentrate more on soft power, not just hard power. He goes beyond the "drill, baby, drill" populism and actually throws some cold water on the idea of relying completely on drilling in ANWR (more to come on that later). Even when he criticizes something that is not popular with conservatives, he often shows a lot more nuance than is acceptable to the talk radio fringe (see his views on Cap and Trade). Romney's book may help him fend off the flip-flop charge by giving him the opportunity of pointing to a written record of what he believes.
Quite frankly, Mitt Romney is one of the few national Republicans who doesn't pander. In his book, there are no calls to cut foreign aid. There is no chapter devoted to how Romney would chase away the bogeyman of Sharia Law. In fact, there is no anti-Islamic or anti-immigrant rhetoric at all. Romney doesn't want you to go out and buy gold, neither does he believe that Obama is in cahoots with radical Muslims in an effort to build a secular caliphate (oxymoron? ask Newt).
The past two weeks, Romney was noticeably absent from talk radio's cries to shut down the government. I am not sure that in 2008 Romney would not have jumped into the fray. Maybe it is just Romney's strategy of being the adult among children, but Mitt is simply not pandering anymore.
Here's to hoping that he sticks to it.
Cross posted at The Cross Culturalist.