By Brigitte L. Nacos
In his most recent New York Times column, David Brooks celebrated the return of the “moderate” Mitt Romney during the first presidential debate last week and praised the GOP candidate for “breaking with the stereotypes of his party” and “offering a more authentic version of himself.”
Moreover, Brooks wrote, “Having taken this step, he’s broken the spell. Conservatives loved it! They loved that it was effective, and it was effective because Romney could more authentically be the man who (I think) he truly is…”
These statements deserve scrutiny on three counts:
First, perceptions of the contemporary Republican Party that Mr. Brooks characterizes as “stereotypes” are not simplistic clichés by partisan opponents but the result of massive Tea Party influence in, if not control of the GOP following the 2010 mid-term election.
That has nothing to do with stereotypes. That is political reality.
More importantly, Brooks’ account of the moderate Romney’s return can only mean this: what Mitt Romney told the nation for more than a year, both during the Republican primary battle and the general election campaign, was just a recital of Tea Party orthodoxy.
So, he never believed what he told the rich during fundraising events. He never believed what he told voters?
Second, Brooks tells us that the newly emerging moderate Romney is “a more authentic version” of the candidate. Since authentic means genuine, real, and true, someone or something is either authentic—or not. This is not a more or less quality.
Third, yes, Mr. Brooks, the Republican base and Tea Party extremists support Romney —the old and the new version-- because they want to defeat President Obama.
They love his debate performance, precisely because it lifted their hope for victory.
But as forRomney beginning" to define the Republican identity," the dominant right wing of the party has no intention to support a “moderate” and “bipartisan” Romney if he becomes president. Just take a look at the communications of Tea Partiers before they made the tactical decision to vote for him as the lesser evil.
And, frankly, there are no indications that Mr. Romney gives a damn about Republican ideology or Republican policy. He obviously can live with a right of center or an extreme right agenda.
As long as he gets what looks like his only goal: he wants to be president. .
It seems that conservative pundits are now on message. In his column this Sunday, Ross Douthat writes in the New York Times,
“What Romney executed on Wednesday night was not just a simple pivot to the center, as much of the post-debate analysis suggested. Pivot he certainly did — stressing bipartisanship and touting his record as the moderate governor of a liberal state, backing away from the more implausible spending cuts implied by his budget promises, explicitly breaking with the idea that upper-bracket tax cuts can be a self-financing free lunch.”
Even David Brooks admits that the debate version of Mitt Romney has not clarified crucial parts of his agenda. “Yes, it’s true. Romney’s tax numbers don’t add up. Yes, there’s a lot of budgetary flimflam. No, Romney still doesn’t have an easy answer to wage stagnation (neither does Obama)," Brooks writes. "But Romney’s debate performance signals the return of Governor Mitt. Democrats call it hypocrisy; I call it progress.“
After the stunning metamorphosis of Romney during last Wednesday’s debate and an admittedly very effective performance that magnified the contrast to a non-combatant president, pundits of all political colors declared him the clear winner.
It mattered little that Romney’s debate triumph was the result of a complete reversal of his previous positions. Either he lied for many months before the debate—or he lied during his rhetorical attacks during the event.
Since the news media are obsessed with horse-race coverage, who is up and who is done at any given moment, it is not surprising that Romney’s brazen performance trumped his many questionable statements and reversals of previous positions.
One wonders how many voters in the 70-million TV audience recognized the severity of Romney’s flip-flopped positions and concluded that he is for sure the Whatever-it-takes-to-Become-President candidate.