Mitt Romney’s formal announcement of a 2012 presidential candidacy today, perhaps because it is hardly an unexpected event, is spurring some deeper thinking about the chimera of a successful blue-state Republican governor who can hardly be called a liberal struggling to obscure his own record to run for president. Jon Cohn and Jon Chait are conducting a colloquoy at The New Republic to debate whether Romney’s past dooms his future. But also at TNR, Mark Schmitt has penned a valuable rumination on Romney’s status as among the last in a wave of successful Republican governors who have now been replaced by highly controversial confrontationists like Scott Walker, Rick Scott and John Kasich.
I’ve always thought the rave national media reviews of the Republican governors of the late 1990s–people like Tommy Thompson, John Engler, and yes, George W. Bush–underestimated the extent to which the Clinton-era economic boom made it easy to cut taxes without significantly reducing services, making everyone happy. But as Schmitt notes, the style of these governors, depending on at least some cooperation across party lines, now seems completely alien to the national GOP mood. In any event, Schmitt is spot-on in his assessment of Romney’s plight:
With that golden-era model of Republican governors so thoroughly rejected, Mitt Romney looks like a relic from a long-forgotten time–like his father’s actual moderate Republicanism–even though it’s only been five years. Were Romney trying to check off the “served in government” box on his resumé today, he’d probably pick a different state and adopt a showdown style more in keeping with the times. But it’s too late for that. The shape-shifting Romney will surely adapt to whatever he’s required to say, but, in doing so, he will have to renounce not only his governorship–his own principal credential for the presidency–but also his party’s most important political triumph in recent memory.
It’s one thing for a presidential candidate to be forced to reshape his or her record to fit a new environment or a national as opposed to a local or regional context. That happens all the time. But it’s another thing altogether to be forced to deny the very accomplishments that made the candidate noteworthy in the first place. And that’s Mitt Romney’s main problem today.