What did Willard (Mitt) Romney in? He looked like a candidate (all those teeth, all those handsome sons) and he sometimes sort of sounded like a candidate, but not really. He changed his position on lots of issues, trying, I think, to sound like a real conservative. But the other candidates picked up on the changes. Mike Huckabee in one of the debates, when Romney told him not to criticize his position shot back, "Which one?" And John McCain, grinning, agreed Romney was "the candidate of change," something the voters seem to want this year.
And John McCain seems certain to be the nominee. Some conservatives mistrust him on some issues. He supported a bill which would have offered illegal immigrants a path to citizenship; many conservatives just want to throw them out, though the logistics of that are formidable. Some conservatives object to McCain's bill regulating campaign spending, seeing that as a restriction on freedom of speech. But on many other issues--abortion, and federal spending, for example-- he follows conservative orthodoxy, though he was booed when he spoke this week at an annual conservative conference here.
What's his base? One joke when he first ran in 2000 (and I've heard it this year, too) is that his real base is the press. And there's some truth in that. We like him because he takes us seriously (unlike, say, the Clintons, who despise reporters) and because he tries to answer our questions instead of just parroting some twenty-second soundbite his media guy has told him to memorize.
And he's a decent man. When I asked him back in 2000 why he'd included a nasty one-liner about Chelsea Clinton in his speech at a Republican dinner, he said (I went back to my old script to get this right), "On occasion in my life I've done some senseless, stupid, cruel things. I did then. I apologized and all I can do is assure those that I've disappointed that I will never do it again." Most politicians just don't talk like that; I left the interview impressed.
He's eight years older now. He'll be seventy-two soon and would be the oldest president we've ever had if elected; his health will be a worry. But he has a biography unlike any other (five years as a POW in Hanoi, for instance) and he has appealed strongly to independents in the primaries. Clinton or Obama, whomever the Democrats pick, will face a fighter. That's not the first word I'd use to describe Romney.