Dave Weigel boldly travels into a realm I’d dare not go — the minds of those newspaper editorial boards that endorsed Obama in 2008 but went for Romney in 2012. It’s a land of magical thinking. And as Weigel is right to emphasize, it’s magical thinking premised on a shared, cynical view of American democracy. Weigel’s found a minimum of 21 Obama endorsement defectors, and claims 50 percent “are couched in the hope that Romney hornswoggled Republican primary voters and will govern as a moderate.” He continues:
It’s an odd view of the president and the presidency. The switchers pay almost no attention to Romney’s advisers. One example: His running mate is Paul Ryan, who led the budget committee in the House for the last two years. Ryan is rarely mentioned in these editorials, which means his voting record on spending or social issues never gets mentioned. “We’ve been turned off by his appeals to social conservatives and immigration extremists,” wrote the Orlando Sentinel’s editorial board, before asserting that these appeals were phony. Romney had shifted his focus, which “at least shows he understands that reviving the economy and repairing the government’s balance sheet are imperative,” and so he got the endorsement.
Most of these papers have this in common: They stop the clock on Romney’s “real” beliefs in 2006, and they restart it on Oct. 3.
The stopped clock, of course, lands at the end of Romney’s one term as governor of Massachusetts. It took him a long time to get there, but he got there. And he stayed there (at least half of the time). While he was there he passed “Romneycare,” the model Congress used in crafting “Obamacare” — which is now, according to Romney, on his own kind of presidential “kill list” — and he spent some of his time using his executive prerogative and state bureaucracy to hassle same-sex parents. He also vetoed 800 bills from the Democratic legislature he regularly brags of having cooperated with so painlessly.
As I said, I haven’t read nearly so many of these endorsements as Weigel. But I did read the “big” one, that of Iowa’s Des Moines Register, who in endorsing Romney selected their first Republican nominee for president since 1972. I scare-quote big because, as everyone but those few (effectively) self-aggrandizing Iowans understand, newspaper endorsements are worth about 25 cents short of a nickel.
Even still, I read it; and its logic — or rather weird absence thereof — matches Weigel’s description to a tee. The most frustrating element of this all isn’t these endorsement flip-flops assuming President Romney would return to his old ways, it’s that those old ways never really existed. The Register bases their best estimation of what a President Romney would actually do almost entirely on the example of his governorship. Hardly outrageous considering it’s his only time in public office.
Romney succeeded as governor in Massachusetts where he faced Democratic majorities in the legislature. If elected, he would have an opportunity to renew the effort. He would begin with an advantage in the House, where a Republican majority is likely to remain after the election. The challenge will be in the Senate, where it takes a super-majority to pass anything of substance.
Romney could be assured that Democrats would work to defeat him as hard as Republicans worked against Obama is if he were to adopt the reactionary agenda of the most extreme elements of the Republican Party. Romney had to tack to the right during the primary season. Since then, he has recalibrated [sic] his campaign to focus on his concern for the middle class, and that is believable if the real Mitt Romney is the one on display as governor of Massachusetts who passed a health care reform plan that became the model for the one passed by Congress.
In that godawful last sentence (I know that’s bitchy — but as GOB Bluth would say, c’mon) the editors, whether they know it or not, are staking the near-entirety of their Romney endorsement on one thing Romney did as governor. Not on his behavior throughout his governorship, or even of a series of accomplishments that might lessen the import of his tenure’s foibles, but just on that one bill. Now don’t get me wrong: I’d rather Governor Romney passed health insurance reform than not. It was a good thing he did and, from what I know, he did it well.
But that’s a tall order, choosing the president on the basis of one single decision.
To his credit, Weigel briefly nods to a heretofore unacknowledged reality that deserves highlighting:
The editorial writers don’t know [what President Romney would do]. But they know that he should. And to be overly fair, this was the thrown-together logic that got a record number of newspapers behind Obama in 2008.
In the leaps of faith Romney’s newspaper boosters must make to reach his arms, any disabused leftwing supporter of Barack Obama, whether they’ve been shattered or merely rattled, should be able to see at least a faint reflection of their former selves. Ah, but we were so much older then…