There are two Mitt Romneys—the one who ran twice in Massachusetts as a moderate-to-liberal Republican and the one now running for the G.O.P. presidential nomination as a red-meat conservative.
When these two diametrically opposite characters end up meeting each other, awkward comedy ensues. Case in point: this weekend.
The 2008 version of Mr. Romney loudly and strategically lashed out at Mike Huckabee—the man whose emergence, more than any other development in this campaign, threatens Mr. Romney’s nomination game plan—charging that the former Arkansas Governor is a disloyal Republican because he criticizes George W. Bush’s foreign policy style.
“It sounds like something Barack Obama or John Edwards would say—not what you hear from someone running for president as a Republican,” Mr. Romney said in Iowa on Saturday. On Sunday, he amped up the rhetoric, demanding on “Meet the Press” that Mr. Huckabee apologize to Mr. Bush.
For the record, Mr. Huckabee, in the obligatory Foreign Affairs essay offered by every presidential candidate, knocked the Bush administration for conducting diplomacy with “an arrogant, bunker mentality.”
The naked disingenuousness of Mr. Romney’s outrage, though, was revealed during that same “Meet the Press” appearance, when Tim Russert repeatedly confronted 2008 Mitt with the words and actions of Pre-2008 Mitt, the ambitious and adaptable Massachusetts pol who’d throw Republican leaders and conservative principles under the bus with abandon.
Like during his 1994 Senate campaign when Mr. Romney, concerned that his state’s left-leaning voters might dismiss him as a disciple of Ronald Reagan, pleaded with the public—on live statewide television—to understand that he had little use for the policies of the Reagan Revolution.
Mr. Russert played the clip on Sunday, with Mr. Romney declaring: “Look, I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I’m not trying to return to Reagan-Bush.”
2008 Mitt’s defense? That he “ran as Republican and a conservative” in ’94, disgusted by Ted Kennedy’s liberalism.
But that’s not true. Mr. Romney may have been the Republican Party’s nominee in 1994, but he wasn’t even a member of the party until the end of 1993. And he originally considered entering the race as an independent—a fact that his campaign team and even his wife happily advertised throughout the ’94 race, just as the Romney campaign bragged that he had voted for Paul Tsongas in the 1992 Democratic presidential primary. And Mr. Romney himself declared that he wanted moderates controlling the Senate—“not the Jesse Helmses.” Are these the actions of someone running “as a Republican and a conservative?”
Mr. Russert didn’t bring that up, but he did cite Mr. Romney’s myriad shifts—in position and tone—on abortion, stem cells, immigration, gun control and gay rights, telling Mr. Romney: “You look at all those comments and quotes, on every one of those issues, there has been an evolution—an intellectual journey on all these issues.”
That set off an illuminating exchange. As Mr. Romney scrambled to deny what amounts to flagrant opportunism, an exasperated Mr. Russert interrupted and exclaimed: “You said (in 1994) you’d be a more effective leader on gay rights than Ted Kennedy!”
Mr. Romney replied that what he’d really meant was that he “would be effective in trying to bring greater recognition of the—of the rights of people not, not to be discriminated against.”
Mr. Russert then asked him whether he stood by the promise he made in Massachusetts to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would provide gays and lesbians broad legal protections against discrimination, at the federal level—legislation that has been championed by Mr. Kennedy.
Mr. Romney admitted that he no longer does, and that he now thinks it’s a state issue.
“Oh, Tim,” he said, “if you’re looking for someone who’s never changed any positions on any policies, then I’m not your guy.”
It was shortly after this that Mr. Romney issued his demand that Mr. Huckabee apologize to Mr. Bush.
But if Mr. Romney intends to come clean to his new conservative friends, he owes a few apologies as well, starting with Ronald Reagan and Jesse Helms—the conservative icons he served up to run for office in Massachusetts.