Alternate-Reality Romney

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Begala

What if Mitt had run for president as the Massachusetts moderate he used to be?

Elections are won in the center. At least that's what Bill Clinton taught me. After the pain of the Carter, Mondale, and Dukakis defeats, Clinton was determined to lead his party back to the middle--and to the White House. So he called for "an end to welfare as we know it," proposed adding 100,000 cops to our streets, and publicly remonstrated Sister Souljah for suggesting that perhaps it would be OK if black people killed white people during the L.A. riots of 1992.

Challenging the established orthodoxy was gutsy. Challenging it and winning the Democratic nomination was historic. But Clinton understood that unless he broke with what he called "the brain-dead politics of both parties," the nomination itself was a worthless prize.

Why doesn't Mitt Romney understand that? Why has he abandoned his longstanding moderation and embraced the furthest fringe of the right wing? It certainly hasn't endeared him to the right. His disapproval among Republicans has soared 13 points in the latest CNN/Opinion Research poll. And it has disgusted independents, pushing Romney's negatives to 53 percent in the same poll.

It takes a remarkable blend of phoniness and fecklessness to simultaneously alienate independents and Republicans. But it didn't have to be this way. Romney could have run on the moderate record he built in Massachusetts. He could have said something like this:

"I want to say something important to my fellow pro-life Republicans. If we are to limit the tragic number of abortions in this country, we are going to have to recognize that contraception prevents abortion. Contraception works. It protects women's health, saves money, and decreases the number of abortions. I will fully fund Title X, which funds contraception. It was passed with the support of a Republican congressman named George H.W. Bush, signed into law by a Republican president, and will be honored and protected by a Romney administration.

"I want to say something important to the hunters in this audience. I will never allow anyone to take away the shotguns and rifles you use to hunt. But I will proudly stand with one NRA member who strongly supported the Brady Bill--and oppose any effort to weaken the gun-safety laws our police need. …