James writes on Romney’s re-creation of himself, which may actually be who Romney would remain if he stopped trying to be all things to whichever group he is addressing at the moment, and he sees something worthwhile:
I can handle that, because, finally, I think Romney would make a much better President than candidate. When he runs — and when he’s run — in the mode he was in tonight, he does great. When he runs as he did during the late Iowa-early NH phase, he’s a magnet for calumny, mockery, and contempt. Such a wild swing is rather alarming to see in a candidate, but let’s not forget this is a heavily contested and very confused primary campaign for the nomination of a party whose President seriously damaged its brand, tradition, trust, and track record. Romney’s great advantage from the beginning was as a sober, alert, sharp fellow capable of turning around a party that had lost its way. When trying to run for the base that still loves Bush just cuz, he’s a disaster, ineffective and unconvincing. But how could he avoid posturing in that way given the early dynamics of the primary season? Let’s all hope those days are over: neither Romney nor his party has any use for the contorted Mitt, and Republicans all have something to appreciate in what seems so obviously to be the Real Romney.
I understand James’ point, and he’s right that there is something more agreeable about a candidate who sticks to what he knows and stops pretending to be the authority on matters where he has no credibility. On his “superpower” remark, I will add this: he did say “in the region,” which seems to me to be an even more bizarre comment. Superpowers are powers that can project power to different continents and regions of the world. A regional power is just that–a regional power. Superpowers can be and obviously are also regional powers, but they would additionally have to be powers that could meaningfully project power almost anywhere in the world beyond their own region. Jihadis, despite their transnational character, do not possess that kind of power and, I suspect, never will.
One thing that comes to mind about Romney’s new persona is this: has he stopped pretending in time for it to make a difference? After all, just as Mr. Bush has trashed the Republican “brand,” Romney has harmed the value of his campaign’s brand with his issue acrobatics and chameleon-like shifts. The value of a “brand” is significantly tied to its reliability and stability. Does Romney have enough time in the next week and a half to reassure voters in Florida and elsewhere that he will not resume his contortionist act when he starts campaigning in the rest of the country? Probably not. Like Thompson’s last-minute discovery of enthusiasm, Romney’s new persona comes too late to do him much good.
On the larger Republican dilemma: they seem to be headed towards a McCain nomination, assuming Romney cannot somehow eke out a victory in Florida, which means a general election candidate taking the unpopular (and also wrong) positions on two of the major policy questions of the day. On one side, his nomination will depress conservative turnout somewhat, whether or not the establishment comes to terms with his candidacy, and on the other his fabled ability to attract independents will ultimately be undone by his position on the war. The Republicans have waited too long to throw up the barricades to stop this and they wasted their energy on other targets, as I have noted before in my remarks on the anti-Huckabee campaign. If they do succeed in stopping McCain, the alternative will be someone who personifies globalisation just as McCain personifies militarism, which will not, contrary to the developing conventional wisdom, be a boon for the GOP in a year in which a recession may well have been going for months by Election Day.
At the risk of repeating myself, I will say that the party and movement leaders have trapped themselves in this bind by ruling out absolutely the idea of a Huckabee nomination and aiming so much of their criticism at him in the last six weeks. Arguably, he is the one leading candidate who could poach on Democratic territory with rhetoric about economic anxiety while nonetheless pushing an agenda broadly favourable to economic conservatives, and the one who could also maintain the GOP line on the war while moving away rhetorically and to some extent substantively (at least apparently on Iran) from the administration on foreign policy. Selecting Romney as the VP could have then united the party and possibly alleviate residual fears about his economic heterodoxies, both real and imagined, and given the Republicans a reasonably good chance to compete. A Romney-led ticket wouldn’t generate enough turnout for a number of reasons and it could be easily put on the defensive in an election that turns on the economy. Even if Romney somehow prevails against McCain, I don’t see how he becomes the President even with his original problem-solver persona.