“I’m not in this race for the next step in my political career. I don’t have a political career, to tell you the truth,” Romney said during a stop at Chapman University. “I’ve only been in politics four years as a governor. I loved the experience, but my life is my wife and my family. My career was building an enterprise, a business, with some other fellows”—so says Romney himself as quoted by Glen Johnson in a HuffPo transmission titled Romney touts his business experience

Note the litotes or deliberate understatement, a figure of ethos: “My career was building an enterprise, a business, with some other fellows.” This is the Romney ethos—the latest one, the one he wants you to accept now—epitomized—it is almost as if Romney is reading from a rhetoric textbook. Here he establishes—or attempts to establish—(a) his phronesis, or practical wisdom (“my career was building a business”), (b) his virtue, or his values (my life is my wife and family), and (c) his alleged disinterest (“I’m not in this for the next step in my political career. I don’t have a political career.”).

Here is the problem: nothing connects; inconsistency, everywhere, abounds. Here is why:

“In the battle to define his presidential candidacy, the former Massachusetts governor is trying to swat away charges that he has changed positions on hot-button issues such as abortion, immigration, gun ownership and gay rights to appeal to his party’s conservative base,” writes Mary Jacoby in an onlineWSJ.com article titled Romney Tries to Show Voters He ‘Gets It’; Republican Reframes Democrat-Owned Issues In Reach for the Middle.

Yet, even as he tries to distance himself from his moderate record, Mr. Romney also embraces it to reach voters in the middle — both Republicans uncomfortable with the direction of the party and independent voters he would need in a general election.

The result is that Mr. Romney’s stump speech can sound at times part Rush Limbaugh, part Bill Clinton, braiding red-meat conservative lines with feel-your-pain prescriptions for health care and retirement securitymore

Romney seeks to capture the middle—OK., fine, whatever. Only Romney never captured the base. Conventional wisdom specifies that a candidate first capture the base of his or her party—or develop a base or a coalition—and only then pivot and attempt to occupy the center or as much of the center as the candidate can capture. Romney, as yet, has no base, has no coalition—Romney has nothing, and what little he has is slipping away. Yet here is Romney, all alone, pivoting and pirhouetting as he enlarges on center-left issues and concerns all the while insisting that he is not just a conservative, but a staunch conservative. (We, by the way, were conservative way back when Romney was voting for Paul Tsongas in a Democratic Primary. To be lectured to about conservatism by this obviously ill-informed newcomer—i.e. Romney—is somewhat galling.)

Further problem: Romney’s lurch to the right in the form of a caricatured and unreconstructed conservatism—a mock-conservatism that takes the form of scolding other candidates for their lack of conservatism, or of railing on largely symbolic and cultural issues—alienates moderates and independents, the very people that Romney is alleged by Jacoby and the Romneys themselves to be positioned to persuade into a broad-based coalition.


Here is a thought: if moderate and independent votes are Romney’s true object, why did he not start with them? Why did he not try to build a base on their support and only then reach out to conservatives once he had the numbers to argue his case? Was it Romney’s famous arrogance or alienation? Or did Romney truly believe that movement conservatives were gibbering idiots moved only by empty symbol and vain gesture?

So: Go ahead, Romney, rail at Ahmadinejad in your noisy stump-speech jeremaids or in your scolding op-eds. This only helps you appear reasonable, as any reasonable person should oppose a figure like Ahmadinejad. This does not help you appear conservative or leader-like.

We concur with Romney’s claim: he has “no political career.” His instincts and habits of mind are simply not those of a politician, or even those of one who is accustomed to being being challenged or disagreed with.

yours &c.
dr. g.d.


  1. 1 Romney’s inflection point—the strange rhetoric of a troubled campaign « who is willard milton romney?

    […] at least not on the stump, and at least not according to Mary Jacoby of WSJ.com in a release titled Romney Tries to Show Voters He ‘Gets It,’ a release we commented on […]

  2. 2 Bartlett: Romney miscalculated the primary field « who is willard milton romney?

    […] Romney outflanks himself (iii): the Romney mix of issues […]

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