The Romney universal hedge

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.”

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 07/06/2012 - 06:41 pm.

    The Obama Hedge

    Of course, Romney never served as a legislator and thus never took the “bold step” of voting “present” as did B. Obama as an Illinois State Legislator, hedging 129 times.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/10/2012 - 06:38 pm.


      of course, could never challenge this record since she was seldom present, even physically.

    • Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 07/10/2012 - 07:05 pm.

      True, Obama is so risk averse,

      that we can’t see him ever doing something risky like health care reform or an unpopular rescue of the auto industry. He sure would never take the huge risk of authorizing the raid on the suspected hiding place of Bin Laden unlike um, who was the president who did that? I forget. Anyway, yeah, Obama would never show the guts of whoever it was did all that stuff.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/06/2012 - 09:13 pm.


    When you’ve already got it all, you can afford to avoid risks.

    And what we need is a universal hedge trimmer.

  3. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 07/07/2012 - 07:59 am.

    Lesson Learned

    Obviously Romney has also learned the value of vague promises and hoping that no one will ever hold him to them. If current performance is any judge he can simply say that he ‘inherited’ all of the problems and promise to actually fix things in a second term. Of course, Romney does have a track record of actually fixing large problems, so who knows?
    Yes, yes, I’d prefer candidates who actually took positions and had well thought out solutions as well. But really, that boat has sailed. And if it bothers libs that Romney is offering vague promises of ‘hope and change’ while they give Obama a pass, then I think it’s safe to say that the problem is more party than particulars.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/09/2012 - 11:45 am.

      2008 Choices

      Yes, the promises of “Hope and Change” were pretty vague. When you put them up against Senator McCain’s “More of the Same,” the choice was not a difficult one.

  4. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/07/2012 - 12:31 pm.

    “NO” way to elect a president!

    President Obama hasn’t been all I hoped he would be, but then again he is trying to get America back on its feet with the extremely useless just say “NO” party. You know the party of “NO”. The party of “NO” is the one who once started an idea or implemented a program but have to be against it just because the Democrats are trying to apply it at a national level. How do the republicans expect to get respect when the minority leaders out rightly states his “ONLY” goal is to make sure President Obama is a one term president? They say they are trying to be bipartisan but everything they propose has a very purposeful political poison pill in it. I understand why the republicans want to distance themselves from the problems of the country after the mess left by George W. Bush. Remember the Republican Party stood completely silent while Bush accomplished leaving an indelible stain on the country. The republican talking points remain unchanged. They want to deregulate those who stole a large chunk of your 401K through reckless risk taking. The republicans scream that they are losing their freedoms. When people work together, comingle ideas, and compromise, they come to a win win for both sides, and amazingly no one feels like they are losing freedoms. Wake up voters. Romney is like buying a pig in a poke. Vote for him and he’ll tell you what he going to do after you elect him. It should be a big clue to the voters that Romney has Pawlenty and Jindal stumping with him and with Limbaugh and Norquist coaching from the sidelines. You know Limbaugh and Norquist, who have never been elected to anything. When republicans screw up they have to bow to Limbaugh and Norquist for forgiveness. You have to filter out the rhetoric and look at the facts before you vote. Name recognition is not a valid reason to vote for anyone. This time around it would be good to look for “incumbent” on the ballot and not vote for them either, as not working together is totally unacceptable.

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/09/2012 - 08:41 am.

    ….In the worst case, he said, they had assets they could sell for 90 percent of what they’d paid…

    That’s a fine strategy for business but a lousy strategy for a country, especially when the tendency is to take the 10% loss out of everyone but the deal-maker.

  6. Submitted by James Hamilton on 07/09/2012 - 08:56 am.

    A lesson learned from his parents

    according to a recent piece in Time. Yet his father took risks and lost his bid for the White House, his mother didn’t and lost her bid for the Senate. Whatever one might think of his politics (and whatever those might actually be) it’s too bad the barons of banking didn’t have a similar fear of risk 5 years ago.

  7. Submitted by Mark Rittmann on 07/10/2012 - 12:49 am.


    Ron Gotzman… “Of course, Romney never served as a legislator and thus never took the “bold step” of voting “present” as did B. Obama as an Illinois State Legislator, hedging 129 times.”

    Voting “present” occurs in every state legislature, and is a political maneuver, it does not speak of any thing other than the politics of state legislators; to make a case that this means something, you will need to analyze the votes and the issues involved. Political maneuvering is what makes State Legislators function. It is also what makes the US House and Senate function.When they stop maneuvering, they stop dead, as the Federal Legislature has.

    Get a clue.

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