“Romneyesque,” as an epithet, conveys a willingness to abandon one’s core convictions — in Romney’s case, temperance and modesty on social issues — in order to pander. ~Mark Ambinder
This may be how many people use it, but what it really conveys is not so much a willingness to abandon core convictions as it is the daily reminder in deeds and words that the person has no real, permanent core convictions at all. What separates Romney from most pandering pols is the man’s gall. Specifically, it was the sheer gall of Romney’s sudden and complete transformation from being more pro-choice than Ted Kennedy to claiming that he was a devoted pro-lifer. In a matter of a few years, Romney went from telling us how deeply, personally affected he was by the death of a close relative who died in a botched abortion, which was why he would always and forever support legal abortion, to adopting as close to the opposite position as he possibly could. The only thing that really changed was that he wanted to be elected to the Senate and then as governor in Massachusetts when he told the first story, and then he started setting his sights higher and had to abandon that story.
Romneyites have never tired of arguing that people change their minds, and this is true, but how is it that Romney lived his entire life right up until he began preliminary organizing for the 2008 Republican primaries as a dedicated pro-choice Republican and only then, in 2005, had a revelation that all life is sacred and should be protected by law? I suppose there is a cynical answer that it doesn’t matter if the change was completely opportunistic so long as he sticks to his new position. But there is something that makes Romney less trustworthy than most, and this is the earnestness with which he embraces his new positions, as if he thinks he has outsmarted his audience and made us forget that he believed the opposite just five seconds before. Romney is probably the only politician who could make me have respect for Rudy Giuliani by comparison. Giuliani at least believes what he believes and isn’t interested in changing that for a few votes.
In fact, Ambinder is far too kind to Romney. Perhaps he doesn’t recall all of the shape-shifting changes our protean candidate made, but Romney “reinvented” himself on many more things than just the hot-button social issues, and the changes were substantive and not merely superficial shifts in “tone.” McCain had great fun with this from time to time, calling him the “candidate of change” and joking about Romney shooting at Guatemalans on his lawn. This pointed to the absurdity of Romney’s boast of being a “lifetime member of the NRA” despite having used a gun perhaps twice in his life, once to shoot at “varmints” on his property, and despite being a strong supporter for gun control in the ’90s. It also reminded the audience that Romney, who at that point was posing as a more-restrictionist-than-thou anti-immigration candidate, had previously endorsed amnesty and had employed illegal immigrants on his property.
Romney had begun his career far to the left of McCain, and campaigned against McCain by painting him as the unacceptable squish. Romney had raised fees as governor, but then portrayed himself as the most zealous tax-cutter you had ever met. He had signed universal health care in Massachusetts, but then he turned into an anti-government crusader. In the ’90s he wanted nothing to do with Reagan or his legacy, because these were radioactive in Massachusetts, and then suddenly every third word out of his mouth was Reagan’s name. If he didn’t change some positions, that was because he did not need to. He remained a staunch free trader, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he became a protectionist overnight if he thought it would help him win some elections.
Most of Ambinder’s post is actually a discussion of Pawlenty and the danger that he is becoming like Romney. The truth is that Pawlenty isn’t slick or charismatic enough to pull off Romney’s multiple metamorphoses.