So in the mid-1990s, Romney did a complete about-face and became the second Mitt Romney. He was no longer a big-government guy, and set out to prove he was a different person. After his success with the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, he started his long quest to be president. He didn’t get much attention in the late 1990s and early 2000s, losing to a long list of candidates like George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole.
Once Obama became president, the old-guard Republicans decided it was Mitt’s time to run, but there had to be a different Mitt. With Republicans like Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman and Rick Perry on the scene, the party needed a real right-winger to emerge, and Romney was happy to oblige. He was now anti-choice, anti-Planned Parenthood and anti-immigrant, and was willing to say anything that satisfied the Tea Party lovers. He pronounced himself “severely conservative.”
With the primary season over and an election to be decided by a relative handful of independents, many of whom consider themselves moderate, Romney is now in his third change of character. He is plagued by many of the things he has said in recent years that make him sound like an elitist. His well-publicized remarks about writing off the 47 percent of the voters who will never support him have become a key part of the Obama campaign against him.
On some days of the week, Romney admits to being the person who provided health insurance for every child in Massachusetts, just like Obamacare. On other days he’s the third Mitt Romney, against everything and promising everything. No doubt the debates will play a major role in shaping who Romney really is and whether he’s capable of governing.
He’s just like one of those three contestants on “To Tell the Truth” claiming to be him. Which one eventually stands up, and how he conducts himself over the next four weeks, will determine whether any of the Romneys we’ve met is the real one, and is capable of being our next president.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.