Romney may not be a closet moderate

If there were any doubts that Republican candidate Mitt Romney is not a closet moderate but a true convert to his party’s extreme right wing, they should have been cleared by now. His first steps as the Republican nominee suggest that what you see is what you would get if he is elected.

Even top Republicans who disagree with Romney on some issues, such as House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, tell me that Romney is highly unlikely to change course if he gets to the White House.

In an interview last week, I asked Ros-Lehtinen how can she, as a Hispanic, support Romney’s “horrendous” — my word — stands on immigration.

I was referring to Romney’s opposition to the Dream Act that would grant a path to legal residence to up to 1.8 million students who were brought to this country as infants by their parents and were raised as Americans, or his call for seeking the “self-deportation” of 11 million undocumented immigrants, which many of us fear would amount to making life impossible for all Hispanics regardless of their legal status.

To my surprise, Ros-Lehtinen, a conservative Republican who supports Romney, told me: “I agree with you. I am in a position that is opposite to that of Mitt Romney on immigration, totally.

But I think that, in this election, the most important issues will be first the economy, then creating jobs, and third, the economy and creating jobs.”

Asked whether she believes that Romney adopted hard-line positions to win over the ultra-conservative wing of his party, and that he will shift to the centre if elected president, Ros-Lehtinen said, “Nobody should vote for Mitt Romney thinking that he will change his positions.” She added that nobody should cast a vote for Romney thinking that “he says x, but he will do y.”

“He says he does not support the Dream Act, and I wouldn’t want somebody to vote for Mitt Romney [thinking] that I and Mario Diaz-Balart [R-Miami], and others will make Mitt Romney change his mind. It’s not possible,” she said.

“Mitt Romney says he does not support the Dream Act, and I think he is a person who stands by what he says, and won’t change his mind,” she said.

Other Republican insiders tell me that Romney’s pick of tea party favourite Paul Ryan as his running mate, as well as the Republican candidate’s acceptance speech at his party’s convention last week, show that Romney’s shift to the right was not just a temporary effort to woo sceptical Republican conservatives during the primaries.

Romney, who during his term as governor of Massachusetts ruled as a moderate and passed universal health reform similar to President Barack Obama’s plan, reiterated in his nomination acceptance speech that one of his priorities would be “repealing and replacing Obamacare.”

On social issues, he said that “as president, I will protect the sanctity of life” and “I will honour the institution of marriage” — code-words that echo conservatives’ most extreme stands against abortion and gay marriage.

On foreign policy, Romney reflected the Republican Platform’s calls for “peace through strength,” and lashed out against Obama’s efforts to try to talk with US adversaries.

“Under my administration, our friends will see more loyalty, and Mr [Vladimir] Putin [president of Russia] will see a little less flexibility and more backbone,” Romney said.

My opinion: Romney has painted himself into an ideological corner from where he won’t be able to escape, for the simple reason that he cannot afford giving more ammunition to those who see him as a chronic flip-flopper, or — as his recent rival at the Republican primaries Gov John Huntsman put it — “a perfectly lubricated weathervane.”

Romney already carries a big political burden within his party for, among other things, having once said that “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal,” supporting gun-control laws in Massachusetts, and stating that his Massachusetts healthcare plan would be a “model for the entire nation,” and then switching to diametrically opposed positions.

He is obsessed with showing that he has some “backbone,” to use his own words. The last thing he could afford would be a gaffe such as George H W Bush’s 1998 nomination acceptance speech promise, “Read my lips — no new taxes,” which haunted the former president for the rest of his political career.

Romney would go out of his way not to let that happen. The danger of him adopting the zeal of the converts is greater than that of him becoming a serial flip-flopper.

© The Miami Herald, 2012. Distributed by Knight Ridder, Tribune Media Services.

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