Any way you look at it, it’s hard to admire Mitt Romney’s decision to start panning the debt-ceiling deal, not when a statement of his opinion might have made a difference, but only after it was signed into law.
Romney isn’t the first moderate Republican politician to stick a finger resolutely into the wind to figure out how to secure the toleration of the party’s base. George H.W. Bush clearly did that when he said, with now-evident insincerity: “Read my Lips. No new taxes!” And John McCain did the same thing in 2007-8 when he suddenly developed a new-found appreciation of supply-side economics.
But the comparison between Romney, on the one hand, and Bush and McCain, on the other, is unfair—and not to Romney. H.W. Bush was national-security-Republican who regarded fiscal policy as a tiresome distraction from the more important business of promoting American national interests in the international arena. McCain may have been ready to change his stripes on taxes and immigration overnight, but he’d walk off an electoral cliff rather than cut and run from an on-going military engagement. The equivocations of Bush and McCain are explained by a tactical decision on their part to affect the priorities of the Republican base so that they’d be in a position to serve the priorities they’d embraced throughout long and distinguished political careers.
What, other than being president, really matters to Romney? We know that it’s not abortion and health care reform. The interesting thing is that he’s doing his level best not to tell us, apparently on the theory that all we need to know is that he’s not Obama. That would strike me as an unlikely strategy for winning the presidency if Obama hadn't gotten so much mileage out of not being Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush in the last election cycle.