David Frum

05.17.12

Mitt Romney's Leadership Secret

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Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Gov. Romney is getting much better at inviting hard-core conservatives to believe that he agrees with them, even when he obviously does not.

For example:

It's an article of faith among U.S. conservatives that the countries of southern Europe are in trouble—not because of the Euro currency—but because of excess public spending. It's an article of faith that the U.S. is in imminent danger of following.

On the other hand, the professional economists from whom Mitt Romney gets his advice believe neither of these things. And it's a fair bet that Romney inwardly agrees with his economists more than his base. 

Now carefully read this extract from Romney's interview yesterday with Jim Geraghty of NRO:

There is also a recognition in this country that what Greece and Italy and Spain are facing could conceivably be brought home to us. The recognition that you reach a point where the world decides that your obligations are perhaps not going to be met, or that they will be inflated away -- in which case people will ask for higher interest rates, and you'll find yourself in a doom loop.

That vivid phrase, "doom loop" gets the headline—and nicely obscures the way in which Romney has otherwise popped open the escape hatches from conservative doctrine.

"There is also a recognition in this country" nicely elides the question whether Romney himself believes in any parallel between America's situation and those of Greece, Spain, and Italy.

The "conceivably" is an elegant extra-distancing touch. A lot of things are conceivable, including many things that are impossible. 

Can he keep it up? He may not have to. The conservative base's will to believe is a tenacious thing, and right now Mitt Romney is its primary beneficiary.