By Eugene Robinson
WASHINGTON — It’s all over but the shouting, or, in this case, the polite applause: Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican presidential nominee. But which Mitt Romney? Will it be Mitt One or Mitt Two?
This is not an inconsequential question. Mitt One is a fiscally conservative, socially moderate, Wall Street-style Republican who believes in compromise to get things done. Mitt Two is a far-right zealot who accuses Democrats of trying to impose godless socialism and claims that what hangs in the balance this fall is nothing less than liberty itself.
We’ve seen a lot of Mitt Two during the primary campaign. Competing against Rick Santorum, a genuine far-right zealot, and Newt Gingrich, a master of rhetorical excess, Romney strove mightily to convince the GOP’s activist base that he could be every bit as doctrinaire as his opponents.
On some issues, he outflanked the far right, which, in today’s Republican Party, is saying something. So his position on illegal immigration, for example, is that those living in this country without documentation must pick up and leave — “self-deportation” is the term coined by Mitt Two — and should not be given “a special pathway” to citizenship.
But as recently as 2006, Mitt One supported allowing at least some undocumented immigrants to remain in the country and begin “a process of registering for a citizenship, applying for citizenship.” A year earlier, he described as “reasonable” a comprehensive immigration reform package proposed by Sens. John McCain and Ted Kennedy that included a form of amnesty.
With his hard-line rhetoric on immigration, Mitt Two drove away scads of Latino voters. Will Mitt One try to woo them back?
Similarly, on health care reform, Mitt Two vows to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and denounces the individual health insurance mandate at the core of the legislation. As most Americans know, however, it was Mitt One who pioneered the individual mandate when he was governor of Massachusetts.
Polls show that while voters do not like “Obamacare,” they love some of the law’s consumer-friendly provisions. Will we hear more of Mitt Two’s absolute rejection of the president’s reforms, or will Mitt One begin to hedge his bets?
Similarly, Mitt One accepted the scientific consensus that human activity is contributing to climate change — and made Massachusetts the first state to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. But Mitt Two has a very different opinion: “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet,” he has said, “and the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”
It would take a lot of hemming and hawing for Romney to revert to his original stance. But since Mitt One is basically a data-driven problem-solver, and since the available data strongly indicate that human activity is indeed warming the atmosphere, there must be conflict and consternation beneath that perfect Romney coif.
On some issues, Mitt Two has been so definitive that Mitt One has no conceivable way to reassert himself. Mitt One, as governor, respected Roe v. Wade as the law of the land and declined to pursue initiatives that could restrict a woman’s right to abortion. Mitt Two supports the reversal of Roe v. Wade, calling it “bad law and bad medicine,” and describes himself as irreversibly anti-abortion. It is pretty much an ironclad rule that a politician may change his mind once on abortion, but not twice.
Mitt One was not associated with any particular school of thought on foreign policy. Mitt Two bristles with tougher-than-thou rhetoric that plays well with the Republican base but likely will frighten independent voters. Will Mitt One re-emerge and realize that accusing the president who killed Osama bin Laden of being some kind of wimp is not likely to be a winning strategy?
It’s going to be fascinating to watch as more of these internal conflicts come to light. Last week, the Mitt One campaign jumped all over remarks by Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen suggesting that stay-at-home mothers don’t really work. But MSNBC’s Chris Hayes unearthed a video clip in which Mitt Two boasted of his initiatives in Massachusetts to compel mothers who received public assistance to hold employment outside the home, where they could benefit from the “dignity of work.”
The presidential debates shouldn’t be much of a chore for Obama this fall. He can just stand by while Romney argues with himself.
Eugene Robinson is a Washington Post columnist. His email address is email@example.com.