How Real Can Romney Be?


TAMPA, Fla. — What do you think of the media coverage? That’s what I asked California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro. “I’m weathering it,” he quipped.

For the second time in a row, weather caused the Republican National Committee to cancel its first night. Some delegates believed that certain reporters wanted nothing more than the ultimate big story — a wipeout hurricane in New Orleans seven years to the day after Hurricane Katrina swamped the Big Easy. And the big question on TV leading up to the convention was how the Republicans — not the Democrat in the Oval Office — should handle the politics of the storm.

To recap the media coverage of the 2012 campaign: Donald Trump. Herman Cain. Newt Gingrich. Did you know Mitt Romney strapped Seamus the family dog on the top of the family car as the family went on vacation in 1983? Romney only will release two years of tax returns. U.S. Senate hopeful in Missouri Todd Akin demonstrated his lack of sympathy and physiological knowledge when he said that women’s bodies shut down to prevent pregnancy during “legitimate rape”; how will that affect Romney? Will tropical storm Isaac bring back bad memories of Katrina?

GOP delegates see a different story. Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., looks at Romney as an amazing survivor who navigated a marathon primary and survived the obstacle course of numerous debates. “He has had to be a stretch-distance runner,” she said from the convention floor Tuesday.

Massachusetts state Rep. Betty Poirier wants America to see the man she has known for years. He’s “very adept at listening to people,” she told me. “He’s reserved. He’s very much a gentleman. He doesn’t brag about the things he does.”

I look at Romney and see the Republican who, when others got hot, always kept his cool. I see a former moderate Republican who, like many others in the GOP, moved further to the right in recent years.

While news coverage tends to focus on silly stuff — the dog, his gaffes, his religion — Romney remains a cipher for a reason. His aides refer to him as “the governor,” yet he rarely talks about his tenure as Massachusetts governor. He talks about his experience in the business world and his turnaround of the Olympics, but he glosses over his stint in government. It’s the hole in his message.

Earlier in the week, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., told me that Republicans are different from Democrats: “We embrace a direction, and we’re honest about it.”

Well, Romney did stick his neck out when he picked Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to be his running mate. That puts the GOP ticket on the record supporting vouchers for Medicare. But Romney never sticks his neck out too far. He has called for tax reform without stipulating which tax breaks he’d remove. He said he’d reject a deficit reduction deal with $1 in tax hikes for every $10 in spending cuts. That had better not be true.

House Speaker John Boehner told the California delegation Tuesday that the GOP believes in “the freedom to fail.” But that doesn’t mean anyone wants to fail.

Email Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@sfchronicle.com.

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