In his weekly Boston Globe column, Joshua Green analyzes one of the main things that been bugging me about Mitt Romney. He is no longer changing his position on issues. He is mostly just refusing to take positions.
His position on Obamacare is that he will repeal it and replace it. What will he put in its place? He won’t say. He wants to keep some of the popular features of the alw (but the popular ones all cost money and he would presumably repeal all the things that would pay for them.
He rejected Obama’s executive order that would allow certain illegal young immigrants to stay in the country and get temporary (but renewable) work permits. The Mitt Romney of the primary campaign would have been against it because it’s a form of “amnesty.” The latest edition Mitt Romney is against it because it’s only temporary. He wants to pass a bill that would solve the problem permanently. How would this permanent fix solve the problem? He won’t say.
There’s plenty more where this came from. We are certainly used to candidates who employ creative ambiguity to try to have things both ways, although Romney may be entering the championship ranks in the category.
But what Joshua Green’s column on the topic did, which was new to me, is to link it to the secret of Romney’s success at Bain Capital. Wrote Green:
“Romney has plainly calculated that he can win without explaining what he’d do as president, and seems intent on becoming the “generic Republican candidate” that pollsters include in surveys (and that often outperform real Republicans). He seems to be making two assumptions: The country is in such dire shape that simply being against Obama is enough, and his background at Bain Capital is a sufficient qualification to get him elected. His campaign is a sustained exercise in avoiding risk.
To Romney, risk avoidance is more than a campaign strategy — it’s endemic. As the Globe’s Michael Kranish and Scott Helman recount in ‘The Real Romney,’ their recent biography, Romney initially declined to become CEO of Bain Capital for fear that it might fail and damage his career prospects.
A few years ago, a former partner at Bain Capital with Romney explained to me that this impulse to be “paranoidly downside risk-averse” had been key to Bain’s early success. In the mid-1980s, he said, once this success was evident, the firm conducted a study to better understand what had brought it about. Two things jumped out: The failure rate of their deals was ‘almost zero.’ And, he said, ‘there was no deal we did in the first years that did not have incredible downside protection — you’d have assets that, in the worst case, you could sell for 90 percent of what you paid for it.’ Romney’s formative professional experience, he explained, was protecting the investments of Bain’s founders.
In politics, downside risk is always glaringly evident, and Romney has avoided it as scrupulously as a candidate as he did as a CEO. But the danger in avoiding every risk, to the point of becoming generic, is that others will fill in whatever you’re withholding.”