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Romney Rising

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E.J.Dionne’s a lefty of course, but also a shrewd observer of politics for three decades. After reading this morning’s column, some GOP activists will be wondering if Dionne is cheering for Mitt because he’s hoping to help along the weakest of the GOP Big Three, or simply calling it like he sees it in the tradition of Post political columnists dating back forever. His column this morning opens:

Watch out, Fred Thompson: By the time you get into the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney may have run away with your constituency.

Dionne then renders his judment on Sunday’s debate:

Sunday’s Republican debate on ABC’s “This Week” suggested what has been obvious to many of the party’s professionals: Of all the candidates, Romney has the most comprehensive strategy not only to win the Republican presidential nomination but also to position himself for next year’s election.

Romney has managed to become a favorite of the Republican establishment, including members of the Bush family — Doro Bush Koch, the president’s sister, has raised money for him, while both Jeb Bush and former president Bush are favorably disposed. At the same time, Romney has distanced himself from the unpopular incumbent.

I think E.J. is calling it like he sees it because of the last two graphs, which reveal his hopes that Romney is genuinely a “compassionate conservative”:

Still, when he was asked about health care, Romney rebuked conservative orthodoxy: He insisted that “tax exemptions” were not enough to cover the uninsured because “the people that don’t have insurance aren’t paying taxes.”

As a rule, Republicans don’t think much about people too poor to pay a lot in taxes. It’s another reason Romney could pose a serious danger not only to Giuliani, McCain and Thompson but also to the Democrats.

This reminds me of why, from among all the Democrats, I hope Senator Clinton gets her party’s nod. Should a Dem occupy the Oval Office in January ’09, I want it to be the most security-minded, toughest-on-the-enemy in the Democratic field, which is clearly Clinton. In the same way, Dionne seems to want the Republican most aware of the plight of the distressed to be the GOP standard-bearer.

I have to send E.J. a copy of A Mormon In the White House. Anyone who has served in the positions Romney has in the LDS Church has encountered a lot of human suffering and counseled a great number of people down on their luck, and the book details Romney’s experience in those positions. Romney’s desire to help the poor is genuine, but so to is his deep respect for markets and the fundamental truth that only economic growth and robust private sector employment can provide the opportunities that the people near or below the poverty line need for long term improvement in their conditions. Expect from him –and I suspect Mayor Giuliani as well– a “compassionate conservatism” tethered tightly to the experience of working with the urban poor as well as middle-class people dislocated by a rapidly changing economy. Romney’s scoffing Sunday at tax deductions for health insurance for the poor who have no income from which to deduct premiums reflected this realism, as did Giuliani’s shredding of the assumption that raising taxes provides more money for the repair of bridges. Both men bring a great deal of executive experience to these debates, an extraordinary advantage in the contest for the nomination and in the general election to follow.


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