Well, that didn’t take long.
Under questioning from David Gregory on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, Mitt Romney reverted to type — the basically moderate Massachusetts Republican he was before he decided that he wanted to be the nominee of a party whose base has moved ever further rightward since the nomination of Barry Goldwater half a century ago.
As the New York Times pointed out in a piece written off the interview, there was the allowance that perhaps President Barack Obama’s health care reform is not all bad. (“There are a number of things that I like in health care reform that I’m going to put in place,” said Romney, though keep is a more accurate term in this context than put. “One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage.”)
There was the acknowledgement that deficits could not be brought fully under control even in a single presidential term. And there was the admission that President Obama had made America safer with the execution of Osama bin Laden and the drone attacks on al-Qaeda targets.
Then came an exchange that got less notice but which I think is among the more revealing remarks Romney has made in a long time.
GREGORY: You know you could be a very unpopular President if you make tough choices that you say you’ll make. If it came to it, if the only way to achieve a deal on the debt, on this fiscal cliff, was to endanger yourself politically to the point that you were a one-term President, would you be satisfied with that?
ROMNEY: David, I could not care less about my political prospects. I want to become President of the United States to get this country on the right track again. America is at a critical crossroads. We have to strengthen the foundation of our economy, of our values, of our principles, so we have a military that’s so strong we can defend freedom for ourselves and for others. We’ve got to put Americans back to work. And politics, and — and whether I am highly favored, not highly favored just doesn’t enter into the equation.
GREGORY: Would you be — would you be satisfied with one term if you could get a deal on averting a fiscal cliff?
ROMNEY: Let me tell you, if I can get this country on track again, I’d be satisfied with anything.
GREGORY: As you know, there’re still questions — you acknowledged it — about, do people really know you? And I think the question is whether — Are you the … the moderate from Massachusetts who championed universal health care, who at onetime was for abortion rights, or are you the … the candidate who said he was a severe conservative? What will you be as a President?
ROMNEY: I’m as conservative as the constitution. I believe in the principles of this nation was founded upon. I understand how our economy works. I’ve lived in the economy. I also understand how to work across the aisle. You get elected in Massachusetts, where 87% of your legislature is in the opposition party, you’ve got to work with people across the aisle. I know how to do that. I’m going to work like crazy to break the deadlock in Washington and to get America on the right track. And I actually think that because we’re at this precipice economically, at the precipice fiscally as a nation as well, that there are going to be good Democrats and good Republicans who have shown respect and if they see a President that’s willing to work with them to share credit with them, to encourage them and pull them along, that we’re going to be able to deal with the challenges we have. And if — if not, I’m going to die trying because I’m going to do everything in my power to fix this country.
Those are not the words of a wild-eyed wing nut — or of a wing nut with any kind of eyes. The question for voters assessing Romney is whether they’re choosing between the President and a pragmatist or between the President and an ideologue. One wonders at this point if even Romney himself is clear which he is.