In a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece on Thursday, the veteran conservative journalist Fred Barnes offered Mitt Romney some advice for improving his campaign, including the sensible (and one might also say humane) suggestion that on immigration, the presumptive nominee “would be wise to move away from his harsh position in the primaries.”
Then Barnes included this fascinating sentence: “According to a Romney adviser, his private view of immigration isn’t as anti-immigrant as he often sounded.”
What exactly does that mean? Does it mean Romney said things that he doesn’t really believe? What are we supposed to make of a candidate who takes certain public positions to court one group of voters — and then tries to reassure an entirely different group of voters by leaking the fact that he doesn’t really believe what he said to win votes from the first group? How many other “private” positions does Romney hold that we don’t know about?
This is an important question because I think the Romney campaign will be engaged in a series of two-steps between now and Election Day. On the one hand, he needs to keep reassuring conservatives that he is really with them on a whole series of issues. But the whole premise that he was the most “electable” Republican rested on the unstated — was this “private,” too? — premise that he was the most “moderate” candidate in the field and could thus appeal beyond the conservative hard core. Romney wants the GOP base to think he’s a staunch conservative and swing voters to believe he’s a closet moderate. That’s why I suspect we’ll hear more hints about Romney’s “private” views on a lot of other matters.
Romney is not the first candidate to try to be all things to all people. But he has a special problem because he has taken a great many contradictory public positions over the years, depending upon whether he was trying to appeal to a general-election electorate in Massachusetts or a Republican primary electorate nationwide. Keep an eye out for more hints about Romney’s “private” views. At some point, he will have to reconcile what he says with what his aides hint at. And he will have to do this publicly.
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