Though the analogy isn’t precise, Mitt Romney still feels like the Manchurian candidate in this race, the Massachusetts moderate disguised as a staunch conservative who wins the GOP nomination before he is revealed. I’m just speculating — at this point, no one can have any idea what Romney really thinks about anything — but it’s possible that what follows is the acceptance speech in Mitt’s head that he obviously can’t deliver:
“My fellow Republicans — boy, you sure make it tough on a guy! I knew it would be hard to run the gauntlet of a Republican primary process. But knowing you’ll have to twist yourself into a pretzel and actually doing it are two very different things.
“Not so long ago I was a ‘pro-choice progressive’ who supported indexing the minimum wage to inflation — something even Ted Kennedy didn’t endorse. I said that smart regulation was essential to make markets work. I believed in public investment in critical research and development and infrastructure.
“And then there’s health care. I’ve been bursting all year to say this, and now that the delegates have voted, I feel we can speak freely. I’m incredibly proud of what we did in Massachusetts! I’m the only governor who passed a universal health-care law — heck, when the dust clears, Obamacare will still leave out 20 million to 30 million people! My reform brought health security to hundreds of thousands and did so in a market-based way that turned out to be a model for the country.
“In other words, through my leadership of a small state, I’ve already had a major influence on national policy that will make every American’s life more secure. In a sane world, this bipartisan accomplishment would have been my major credential for the presidency.
“Then I had to deal with you people. And I’ll be honest — you’re crazy! You’ve made me pretend all year that making sure every Massachusetts resident had secure access to health insurance was somehow bad, and that Barack Obama’s desire to do this for the country is worse. You made me stand up and say that a deficit-cutting deal with $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in taxes wasn’t good enough! And don’t get me started on gays, guns or God.
“But I’ve done everything you’ve asked. And you’ve rewarded me for telling you what you wanted to hear. Why did I say a bunch of stuff I don’t believe? Because I know this: Once I get the power, it won’t matter what I’ve said before.
“That’s the flaw with all the comparisons of me to my dad. Dad gave back big bonuses. Dad put out 12 years of tax returns. Dad told the party where to get off. Well, my father was my hero. But you know what Dad never did? Dad never became the GOP nominee or the president. See if you can figure out the lessons I drew about the payoff for purity in American public life.
“People think I’ve had it easy. Well, they’re mostly right. I come from a wealthy family and had every advantage. Ann — I loved you for saying Tuesday night that success hadn’t been handed to me. But everything up through Harvard Business School had been, and that’s more than 99.9 percent of Americans can say.
“But I’ve paid one big price. All I hear about from the press is the ‘empathy gap.’ What about your empathy for me?
“You want to know about the ‘real’ me? I’m a man who wants the power of the presidency. That makes me exactly like all the men who’ve won that office before. You think it’s easy adjusting to the endless intellectual dishonesty that political ambition requires? Those who don’t want power are free to say what they think and believe. I don’t have that luxury. No one who wants to hold power in a democracy does.
“It’s not storming the beaches of Normandy, I know, but it’s a sacrifice.
“Delegates and members of the press, it’s a story as old as ambition itself. At the end of Robert Harris’s wonderfully imagined novel ‘Imperium,’ which traces Cicero’s political rise, Cicero confides in his trusted aide after years of intricate maneuvering have finally led him to be elected consul.
“ ‘How will posterity judge us . . .?’ Cicero asks after the election. ‘That is the only question for a statesman. But before it can judge us, it must first remember who we are.’ ”
“Winning the prize comes first. What I’ll do with the power — well, let’s talk about that on November 7.”
Matt Miller is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a contributor to MSNBC. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.