It's a liberal! It's a moderate! It's a RINO! It's a conservative!
It's Mitt Romney! Rarely, if ever, in the history of U.S. presidential politics has a candidate been defined in such a variety of ways. His detractors often define him as anything but conservative, while many of his supporters believe he will accomplish more of the conservative agenda than any other candidate. Who is correct? Is there validity to each argument?
For and Against
Those pushing the view that he is anything but conservative make a compelling argument. RomneyCare, protecting a woman's right to choose, support of gay rights, suggestions that man-made global warming may be real--these, and more, are evidence of a candidate who is anything but conservative.
Supporters, on the other hand, make the case that RomneyCare is better than what liberals would have implemented, that Romney is now committed to life, that same-sex marriage was not the focus it is now and he's against it, that he believes government has no business supporting green initiatives--and the arguments go on.
Yet another school of thought suggests that Romney has held differing opinions on many issues of national importance. The premise is that changes in stances indicate a lack of core values, that he will alter positions on the basis of prevailing political sentiment. Given the diverse stances listed above, it would not be unreasonable to come to such a conclusion and to question the extent to which he could be trusted to pursue conservative policies in office.
Yes, these are the ways in which Mitt Romney, the candidate for president, is defined. No wonder supporters and detractors argue on and on. With so much evidence out there, it's not difficult to make one's case for either side. Perhaps his biggest political blunder has been to allow multiple definitions of himself to be made. The question now is whether these differing definitions are reconcilable. Affirmative, but not by pushing any of the above definitions. Instead, we must venture deep into his thought process and what the realities were at different points in time.
Back in Time
Let's travel back in time to Massachusetts in the early 2000s. We are in, arguably, the most liberal state in the union. Republicans are second-class citizens and are in the extreme minority. They are ridiculed. They are looked upon with suspicion. Conservative Republicans have it even worse. They rarely have the opportunity to be elected, serve, and make a difference.
This is the headquarters of the Kennedy empire. Ted Kennedy at that time is still an icon. During a time of significant financial difficulty, Mitt is elected governor to see if he can fix things. What he does, how he governs is very closely monitored. His decisions will influence not only his own record, but will impact the ability of the party to get people elected in the future. Try to be too conservatively cute and you blow the Republican Party's chances in future elections.
Why didn't Mitt simply move from Massachusetts to a conservative state and run for governor there? Utah would have been an excellent option. There he would have had the opportunity to push, pass, and sign all manner of conservative initiatives and become another conservative face in the conservative crowd. He could have done so with one hand tied behind his back. He could have governed without even breaking a sweat.
Conservatism Where? Multiple Fronts
The cause of conservatism, of conservative values, must be fought on multiple fronts, not just in conservative states. Do we surrender states such as Massachusetts or do we jump in and fight for what we believe is vital for the country, both locally and at the national level? There are three fronts, each with a major objective:
- Conservative states: take such actions, pass such legislation, and stay on message so as to maintain conservative values and keep liberalism from creeping in
- Purple states: put forward the most qualified and electable truly conservative candidates, convince the undecided and the open-minded of the benefits of, and need for, conservative values, help the state become more conservative step by step, both in terms of mindset as well as in legislative terms
- Liberal states: keep the state from gravitating even further to the left, communicate and demonstrate the attractiveness of conservative principles, get competent people in office who bring more to the table than just ideology, who can add value to the state to demonstrate that liberalism is not the only game in town
Keeping a liberal state from gravitating further leftward is likely a tougher proposition than keeping the status quo in a conservative state. How did Mitt do? Here are two of many examples:
- Massachusetts wanted a more liberal, European-like, single-payer, government-run health care system. Mitt used his abilities to drive bi-partisan production and implementation of a health-care system significantly less liberal, i.e. more conservative than what was originally demanded.
- Massachusetts wanted easier access to abortion. Mitt, who had promised to protect the existing laws allowing choice did just that: maintained what was already on the books. However, he vetoed every bit of legislation that came his way that would have resulted in a shift leftward, i.e. easier access. He kept his promise to voters, while fighting for conservative values.
Once free from his duties as governor, Mitt was excited to jump into the 2008 Republican race. He was confident he'd be accepted into the national conservative fold and was looking forward to demonstrating and discussing conservative issues and ideals. It would take some time, however, to become "fluent" in conservative speak and conservative cultural cues, having been away from that world most of his adult life. It could be compared to an American living abroad, spending most of his time speaking a foreign language, and returning to the States with perfectly fluent English, but missing just a bit of vocabulary and in the vernacular. Other conservatives were understandably suspicious of this former governor of the liberal state of Massachusetts. The more he tried to convince them of his conservative credentials, the more there was push back in the opposite direction. Rather than give up, he came back strong for 2012, having learned valuable lessons on how to communicate and where he stood in the eyes of voters.
Returning back to the multiple definitions of Mitt Romney, we can better understand why different people see him differently. It's not that there is a right or wrong when it comes to defining Mitt and how he would govern as president. Rather, it's understanding how he managed to operate in an atmosphere politically hostile to conservatives. It's also about understanding that we need leaders capable of succeeding on behalf of conservatism in more than just one type of political environment, who can take it on the chin, and come back more determined than ever to serve the country by getting conservative ideals implemented nationally.
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