In a piece for Slate, Jacob Weisberg ponders a paradox: the Republican Party is more dominated by conservative ideologues than it has been in decades. Yet, as things stand, the man most likely to be their presidential candidate is a moderate, and a political pragmatist. In fact, Romney is what you might call an extreme pragmatist; there is no position to which he feels a sufficiently strong attachment not to reverse through 180 degrees if it becomes politically expedient for him to do so. I should add that I'd much rather see a pragmatist within spitting distance of the White House than an ideologue. Here's Weisberg:
To the disappointment of both radical conservatives and Obama liberals, the former Massachusetts governor is a sane, intelligent, and reasonable man. Unlike some of his rivals, he is not hostile to undocumented migrants or homosexuals. He doesn’t deny the facts of climate change or evolution. He isn’t proposing vast tax cuts or reductions in social spending. Romney’s politics express the worldview of a successful businessman who became the technocratic governor of America’s most liberal state...
...This managerial malleability alarms Tea Partiers, but it should come as a relief to everyone else. Romney is not a radical and will not govern from the far right, unless the country has truly gone there first. And when the time comes for him to behave responsibly, he will have less trouble than his rivals might in accepting the necessity of higher taxes. For those interested in the economic choices that America’s next president will face, Romney’s nonideological nature is a significant plus.
Agreed. Of course, in key respects, the national politician Romney resembles most is the current occupant of the White House. Both are pragmatists, led by the head more than the heart, who instinctively head for the middle ground of any debate. Both are political geeks, readily engrossed by the details of policy or strategy, and uncomfortable with the people side of their profession. Neither Romney or Obama (unlike, say, Clinton) enjoy gladhanding donors, schmoozing political opponents, or working a ropeline of voters. They've accommodated themselves to such activities, because, being pragmatists, they know they're important. But they're not naturals. Obama's favourite presidential responsibility seems to be national security (unusually for a Democrat), and I suspect Romney, if he makes it to the White House, will be the same. It's the part of the job that requires very little retail politics, and rewards the ability to absorb and analyse data, converse with smart people, keep secrets and take cold decisions. It's a much more tangible set of skills than those needed to get and stay popular. I think that Romney would have similar trouble to Obama in forming a bond with the electorate.
It's a strange paradox that in these ideological times, the two leading politicians in Americans should be technocratic conciliators by nature. The 2012 question for the non-ideological observer of American politics will be (if Romney is nominated), which of these pragmatists will be more effective at fixing America's problems, primarily the economy? It's too early to get into that, of course. But at the outset, I'd say there seems to be a good case for Romney. It may be that a moderate Republican president will be much better able than any Democrat to manage a rabidly partisan congressional GOP. The chances of Romney getting tax rises through, for instance, would seem higher to me than Obama doing so.