Last April, Newsmax magazine ran a cover story headlined, “Romney to the Rescue: Romney’s Got the Right Stuff for 2008.”
Based on interviews I conducted with Mitt Romney and his friends, family, and aides, as well as with critics and neutral observers, the profile depicted him as a remarkably successful businessman and conservative governor with impeccable character.
Since the Newsmax article appeared nothing has changed.
No one has revealed that Romney appointed a close friend as police chief who has since been indicted for dealings involving figures with ties to the Mafia, as is the case with Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani did this even though he was warned about red flags in the candidate’s background.
There have been no revelations that Romney commuted or pardoned 1,033 criminals, including 12 murderers, as did Mike Huckabee. To the contrary, Romney granted no commutations or pardons as governor. Nor did Romney raise taxes. In contrast, by the end of his 10-year tenure, Huckabee was responsible for a 37 percent hike in the sales tax in Arkansas. Spending increased by 65 percent — three times the rate of inflation.
Huckabee joined Democrats in criticizing the Republican Party for tilting its tax policies “toward the people at the top end of the economic scale.” He aligned himself with Democrats and showed an ignorance of the Bush administration’s extensive diplomatic efforts when he said the White House has an “arrogant bunker mentality.”
In contrast to his nice guy public image, when Huckabee asked in a New York Times Magazine interview, “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?” he belied nastiness and demonstrated what George Will has rightfully suggested is bigotry.
Huckabee’s serial ethics violations and misuse of funds to maintain the governor’s mansion in Arkansas for restaurant meals, pantyhose, and dry cleaning bills recalls Bill and Hillary Clinton’s improper appropriation of White House furniture and chinaware for their Chappaqua, N.Y, home.
Unlike Fred Thompson, Romney has not been revealed to have a lazy streak. Aside from being a key backer of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill, in his eight years in the Senate, Thompson was the primary sponsor of only four pieces of legislation, none of any significance. On the campaign trail, the sour-looking Thompson has distinguished himself as someone who schedules two or three events a week and often cancels at the last minute.
A former CIA officer recalls what happened when Thompson and seven other members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Committee visited Pakistan in late 2002.
“The other senators, including John Edwards, attended the classified intelligence briefing,” the former officer says. “Thompson blew it off and spent a lot of time drinking and eating.”
Finally, Romney has not been found to have a vicious, out–of-control temper, as is true of John McCain. Nor did he twice oppose President Bush’s tax cuts — a key ingredient in the current the economic recovery — as did McCain.
“He [McCain] would disagree about something and then explode,” said former Sen. Bob Smith, a fellow Republican who served with McCain on various committees. “[There were] incidents of irrational behavior. We’ve all had incidents where we have gotten angry, but I’ve never seen anyone act like that.”
Over the years, McCain has alternately denied being prone to angry outbursts, admitted he struggles to control his anger, and claimed he only becomes angry over waste and abuse. But those who have experienced it say his anger does not erupt over policy issues or waste and abuse. Rather, his outbursts come when peers disagree with McCain or tell him they won’t support him.
What has changed since the Newsmax article appeared is that the public’s perception of Romney has been distorted by the lens of media coverage and televised debates that focus on the trivial and irrelevant.
In selecting the CEO of a company, no one would hold a debate among candidates for the job. Instead, a search committee would look at character, which is a compass to future behavior, and competence as measured by candidates’ track records.
The media coverage and debates have focused on anything but. Instead, they have focused on atmospherics, promises that may or may not be kept, who is ahead in the polls, and how well the candidates tell jokes and respond to questions from a snowman on YouTube.
Half the stories and references to Romney in the media refer to his religion, which is irrelevant to how he would perform as president. Some critics say that Romney is not a Christian — leaving Jews out in the cold — or that his Mormon beliefs mean he is gullible. If so, Christians and Jews must be equally gullible. After all, they believe that Moses parted the Red Sea, that Jesus paid taxes with coins from a fish’s mouth, and that a drop of oil burned for eight days.
Interestingly, polls show that those most likely to say they would not vote for a Mormon as president are also most likely to describe themselves as liberals, who profess to be tolerant.
With the help of the media, opponents have managed to portray Romney as a flip-flopper. The fact is that while most of the candidates have changed position on some issues, Romney has made a clear change on only one issue. While he has always been personally pro-life, like Ronald Reagan, he is a convert to the pro-life position when it comes to public policy. But as governor, Romney took pro-life stands, vetoing bills that authorized embryo farming, therapeutic cloning, and access to emergency contraception without parental consent.
That track record is far more important than his endorsement of Roe v. Wade more than a decade ago during a debate with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. In fact, even more than Reagan as governor of California, Romney’s actions as governor fit the conservative mold in the most liberal of liberal states.
While playing up the theology of Romney’s religion, the media have downplayed his record of success. Few stories mention that he is both a Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School graduate. Romney started Bain Capital, a venture capital firm, from almost nothing in 1984. In evaluating whether to invest in a company, Romney would conduct massive research and play devil’s advocate to flush out facts.
Relying on those techniques and data he developed about the true amount companies spend on office supplies, Romney decided to invest $600,000 in Staples before it opened its first store in Brighton, Mass. After the opening, he invested millions more.
“He made eight times his money in three years,” Tom Stemberg, founder of Staples, tells me.
Bain Capital now has assets of $40 billion, and Romney is worth close to $250 million. In addition, he established a trust valued at $100 million for his five sons.
Romney worked similar miracles when he took over the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, turning a $397 million budget shortfall into a $56 million profit. As Massachusetts governor, he turned a $3 billion deficit into a surplus without raising taxes. Along the way, Romney developed a health insurance plan designed to cover all Massachusetts residents. It’s now being copied by other states.
In training new agents, the FBI Academy at Quantico, Va., teaches that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Yet over and over, voters have ignored warning signs of poor character and have overlooked track records, only to regret it.
When he was a candidate for vice president, Richard Nixon became embroiled in an ethics issue when the New York Post revealed he had secretly accepted $18,000 from private contributors to defray his expenses. It should have come as no surprise that he would end up being driven from office by the scandal known as Watergate.
Given Bill Clinton’s flagrant, compulsive philandering while governor of Arkansas, it should have come as no surprise that he would turn out to be a spineless leader who was unwilling to deal effectively with al-Qaida but was willing to have sex with an intern in the Oval Office and to lie under oath.
When she was first lady, Hillary Clinton fired a White House usher because he returned a call from former first lady Barbara Bush seeking help with her laptop. After 9/11, she appeared on national TV and claimed that when the two airplanes hit the World Trade Center, her daughter Chelsea was going to jog at Battery Park near the towers, where she heard and saw the catastrophe unfold.
Clinton’s arrogance was so profound that she did not coordinate the story with Chelsea, who wrote an article for Talk in which she described where she was that day. According to Chelsea, she was on the other side of town in a friend’s apartment on Park Avenue South. She watched the events unfold on TV.
Only a fool would choose a friend, an electrician, a plumber, or an employee who displayed such nastiness and disregard for the truth. Yet Hillary Clinton is a serious contender for president.
In contrast, when told in July 1996 that the 14-year-old daughter of one of his partners had been missing in New York for three days, Romney closed down Bain Capital and asked its 30 partners and employees to fly to New York to try to find her. The girl had gone to a rave party and taken ecstasy.
“I don’t care how long it takes, we’re going to find her,” Romney told the girl’s father Robert Gay.
As a result of a massive campaign orchestrated by Romney, he was able to locate and rescue the girl when she was within a day of dying from the effects of an overdose.
If that episode — virtually ignored by the media — tells you a lot about the man and his character, so does his choice of a wife. In personality and intelligence, Ann Romney bears a striking resemblance to the widely admired subject of my book "Laura Bush: An Intimate Portrait of the First Lady."
Like Giuliani, Romney recognizes that no issue is more important than protecting the country and staying on the offense in the war on terror. But unlike Giuliani and the other leading Republican candidates, Romney’s record demonstrates that he is true to all three prongs of the conservative movement. Many conservatives don’t seem to get that. Instead, they keep looking for a new flavor of the month, only to be disappointed again and again when they learn more about their latest infatuation. Could Felons for Huckabee be next?
“One of the reasons I decided to endorse Romney is that I became convinced that he is the only candidate developing a credible ability to appeal to economic, social, and defense-oriented conservatives,” David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union, tells me.
Within the conservative movement, no one is more respected than Keene, who has headed the ACU since 1984. With one million members, the ACU runs the Conservative Political Action Committee’s (CPAC) annual conference in Washington and publishes an annual Rating of Congress — the gold standard for ideological assessments of members of Congress.
“Giuliani appeals to defense-oriented conservatives and can make a credible argument to some economic conservatives, but he can’t pass the giggle test with social conservatives — and doesn’t really try to do so,” says Keene. “Mike Huckabee appeals to social conservatives but has demonstrated virtually no appeal to those who focus on national defense and economic issues. Thompson may have had the potential to do what Romney is now doing, but hasn’t done so. John McCain is a hero to many national defense oriented conservatives, but he has little appeal in other quarters.”
Romney, on the other hand, has “developed into a candidate who has tried hard to appeal across these factions in the way Reagan did some decades ago,” Keene says. “Like all the others, he began with credibility issues, but as time has gone on, more and more conservatives are beginning to accept today’s Mitt Romney as the real deal rather than the caricature others are portraying.”
That is why Romney has the support of conservatives as different as Robert Bork, Paul Weyrich, former Sen. Jim Talent, Michael Novak, and Kate O’Bierne and the editors of National Review, says Keene.
“This support will broaden and deepen as more and more members of the conservative coalition realize that Romney can hold the coalition together and advance their cause better than the other candidates,” predicts Keene.
The Newsmax cover story last April called Romney “The Reagan Candidate.”
That is as true today as it was then.
By Ronald Kessler: chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com
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