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Mitt Romney Reinvents Himself. Again.

April 9, 2009

As a downtrodden Republican Party battles to rebound from its November beat-down, one 2012 GOP White House hopeful is rising like a phoenix from the ashes. While Bobby Jindal disgraced himself on national television and the Palin clan became icons for petty crime and failed family values, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is again positioning himself as the Republicans' next best hope. In his latest extreme makeover, Mitt is selling off ostentatious mansions, bankrolling GOP candidates nationwide and pushing as his signature issue the very immigration reform he once derided. As it turns out, this isn't the first Romney reinvention. Meet Mitt 4.0.
Massachusetts Moderate. The millionaire venture capitalist and son of American Motors magnate George Romney launched his political career in Boston. But early on in his long-shot campaign to unseat Senator Ted Kennedy, Romney the Mormon from Michigan had to prove his liberal bona fides to progressive Bay State voters. So, in what would become the first step in a series of gymnastic flip-flips on the issue, Romney version 1.0 declared abortion should be "safe and legal in this country."
Ultimately, Romney's campaign ran aground over his venture firm's slash and burn business practices in gutting the workforce of an Indiana company it had acquired. But eight years later, the prospects for Mitt 2.0 were much more welcoming.
Salt Lake Savior. The growing mythology surrounding his management rescue of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake combined with a feeble incumbent helped enable Romney's rebirth for the 2002 Massachusetts gubernatorial race. Still, to appease the liberal electorate in his adopted state, Romney reached out to gay voters while offering yet another formulation for claiming to protect women's reproductive rights:

"I promised that if elected, I'd call a truce - a moratorium, if you will...I vowed to veto any legislation that sought to change the existing rules...I fully respect and will fully protect a woman's right to choose."

Ironically, Romney's road to the State House in Boston almost hit a detour back in Utah. Foreshadowing his sale this week of his $5 million dollar, 6,400 square foot chalet in Park City, Romney had for three years claimed Utah as his primary residence, theoretically disqualifying him from statewide office in Massachusetts. A payment of $54,000 in back taxes remedied that situation.
Christian Conservative. With his eyes already fixed on the White House, the political chameleon Mitt Romney went for the full Zelig.
Desperate to shed the liberal label and calm religious right fears of his Mormon faith, Romney underwent a total transformation for the 2008 race. By 2005, Romney completed a 180 degree turn on abortion, with aide Michael Murphy acknowledging, "he's been a pro-life Mormon faking it as a pro-choice friendly." Opposing stem cell research and same-sex marriage, Romney ran away from his past and towards the hard right voters dominating the GOP primaries. And Mitt 3.0 won plaudits from Christian conservatives by announcing Muslims need not apply for his cabinet and by excluding non-believers from the American community. Even before proclaiming in his much hyped December 2007 "Faith in America" speech that "freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom," Romney signaled his fealty to the radical right:

"People in this country want a person of faith to lead them as their president."

So, it came as no surprise that Romney announced his candidacy not in his home state of Massachusetts or in second home state of Utah, but in his birthplace of Michigan. Later, in the days just before the crucial Michigan caucus, Romney portrayed himself as "just a guy from Detroit."
And during his 2008 run, Mitt Romney was strongly against immigration reform. Despite having hired illegal aliens to tend the grounds of his tony Belmont, Massachusetts estate, Romney signaled his own willingness to crack down on employers who hire undocumented workers:

"That'll stop the flow of people into this country for work because they won't be able to get work."

As he put it in an August 2007 ad, "Legal immigration is great. But illegal immigration, that we've got to end. And amnesty is not the way to do it."
Alas, that was then, this is now.
Mr. Fix It. With the Republican Party in tatters, Mitt 4.0 is presenting himself as the answer to its woes. Having won over the CPAC crowds suspicious of Republican nominee John McCain, Romney absorbed the $45 million he personally spent in his own campaign to help fundraise for McCain. (No doubt, he thought spending part of his sons' inheritance was worth the shot at the #2 spot on the ticket.) His Free and Strong America PAC has been raising money for his own, if not yet others, candidacy.
Romney has apparently learned other lessons from the Republican debacle of 2008. Unlike John McCain, Romney won't be caught with more houses than he can count. And reading exit polls which showed a Democratic landslide among Hispanic voters, Romney is trying to walk back his party's - and his own - xenophobic extremism on immigration. As The Hill reported last week:

Romney believes that one way to attract more minorities to the GOP is to pass immigration reform before the next election, saying the issue becomes demagogued by both parties on the campaign trail.
"We have a natural affinity with Hispanic-American voters, Asian-American voters," he said.

Of course, 2012 is still a long ways off. Downplaying his obvious intention to make another go of it at the presidential sweepstakes, as the 62 year old Romney recently put it:

"At this stage, running again is way beyond the horizon. This year is working on a book. The next year will be helping in Republican campaigns. And I don't know what the year after that will bring."

How about Mitt 5.0?


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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