Editorial staff at the Concord Monitor:
If you were building a Republican presidential candidate from a kit, imagine what pieces you might use: an athletic build, ramrod posture, Reaganesque hair, a charismatic speaking style and a crisp dark suit. You'd add a beautiful wife and family, a wildly successful business career and just enough executive government experience. You'd pour in some old GOP bromides - spending cuts and lower taxes - plus some new positions for 2008: anti-immigrant rhetoric and a focus on faith.
Add it all up and you get Mitt Romney, a disquieting figure who sure looks like the next president and most surely must be stopped.
Romney's main business experience is as a management consultant, a field in which smart, fast-moving specialists often advise corporations on how to reinvent themselves. His memoir is called Turnaround - the story of his successful rescue of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City - but the most stunning turnaround he has engineered is his own political career.
If you followed only his tenure as governor of Massachusetts, you might imagine Romney as a pragmatic moderate with liberal positions on numerous social issues and an ability to work well with Democrats. If you followed only his campaign for president, you'd swear he was a red-meat conservative, pandering to the religious right, whatever the cost. Pay attention to both, and you're left to wonder if there's anything at all at his core.
As a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1994, he boasted that he would be a stronger advocate of gay rights than his opponent, Ted Kennedy. These days, he makes a point of his opposition to gay marriage and adoption.
There was a time that he said he wanted to make contraception more available - and a time that he vetoed a bill to sell it over-the-counter.
The old Romney assured voters he was pro-choice on abortion. "You will not see me wavering on that," he said in 1994, and he cited the tragedy of a relative's botched illegal abortion as the reason to keep abortions safe and legal. These days, he describes himself as pro-life.
There was a time that he supported stem-cell research and cited his own wife's multiple sclerosis in explaining his thinking; such research, he reasoned, could help families like his. These days, he largely opposes it. As a candidate for governor, Romney dismissed an anti-tax pledge as a gimmick. In this race, he was the first to sign.
People can change, and intransigence is not necessarily a virtue. But Romney has yet to explain this particular set of turnarounds in a way that convinces voters they are based on anything other than his own ambition.
In the 2008 campaign for president, there are numerous issues on which Romney has no record, and so voters must take him at his word. On these issues, those words are often chilling. While other candidates of both parties speak of restoring America's moral leadership in the world, Romney has said he'd like to "double" the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, where inmates have been held for years without formal charge or access to the courts. He dodges the issue of torture - unable to say, simply, that waterboarding is torture and America won't do it.
When New Hampshire partisans are asked to defend the state's first-in-the-nation primary, we talk about our ability to see the candidates up close, ask tough questions and see through the baloney. If a candidate is a phony, we assure ourselves and the rest of the world, we'll know it.
Mitt Romney is such a candidate. New Hampshire Republicans and independents must vote no.