I encourage you to read Noah Millman’s piece about character and the presidency, which includes his analysis of how presidential character has defined the leadership of Presidents G.W. Bush and Barack Obama, and would likely define that of a President Romney. He writes, brutally:
President Bush was a leader who didn’t tend to ask directions before marching off in one direction or another. President Obama has a predilection for “leading from behind.” A President Romney, I suspect, would turn out to be a leader that nobody wants to follow.
I think that’s correct, if harsh. Yesterday I was listening to an interview on NPR with two Boston Globe reporters who wrote a biography of Romney. One of them said:
“The Mitt Romney who ran in 1994 started out as a political independent. He’s somebody who railed against the Contract With America, which of course was the big Newt Gingrich GOP revolution that year. He was a strong supporter of abortion rights. He was very outspoken in favor of gay rights, even writing this famous letter to the Log Cabin Republicans, a Republican gay rights group, talking about how he could be more effective than Ted Kennedy could be, his opponent, on gay rights.
“So you go up and down the line and it’s a very, very different political profile. So I think the one thing ideologically almost that’s consistent from then to now is he’s a pragmatist. And at the time, he was running against a very liberal senator, with an impressive civil rights record and he was in very blue Massachusetts, so he had to be a certain type of candidate to be successful — and to a large extent that continued in his gubernatorial run in 2002. After that, when he starts to run for president, it’s a very different environment and he realizes he has to be someone completely different to succeed in a Republican primary.”
Hey, at this point, I would much prefer a pragmatic conservative than an ideologue in the White House. The problem is that Romney’s pragmatism seems to be built not on a sense of prudence, but rather a lack of conviction. That’s not necessarily an obstacle to success in presidential politics. What did Bill Clinton believe in, after all? The difference is that Clinton had enormous charisma. Romney has none. He’s a good and decent man, but it’s hard to see how he gets anyone to follow him when he has to make a tough and unpopular call. Why would you, when you don’t know what he really believes, and what hills he would be prepared to die on? Why would you when nobody loves him or much respects him?
The last time we had a president who was thoroughly decent and upright in his personal life but a failure in office was Jimmy Carter. That did not end well for any of us.