It’s the greatest mystery in Utah politics — or perhaps a Mitt-stery.
Who is this Mitt Romney guy, really? Or does it change from week to week?
Nobody seems to be able to figure it out, not that they aren’t trying. In one weekend alone, there were diametrically different takes in the national media on who Romney really is.
The Associated Press’ take was that Romney has set aside his differences with President Donald Trump, and now is ready to Make America Great Again.
“Whatever the disagreements have been, I think they’ve put them behind each other,” Anthony Scaramucci, who was fired as Trump’s spokesman before he started the job, told The AP.
Politico reads Romney vastly differently, predicting he could be the voice of the GOP establishment and might be poised to revive his fiery takedown of Trump that he unleashed during the 2016 race — you remember that one, where he called Trump “a phony, a fraud.”
Maybe, Politico postulates, he can step into the void left by retiring critics like Sens. Bob Corker and Jeff Flake and Sen. John McCain, who is battling brain cancer.
The New York Times wrote a few thousand words about how it may be both — or neither. The most insight we got was from a campaign stop where Romney couldn’t get enough of the ducks. “Look at the ducks. Look at the ducks. There’s a duck! There’s a duck. Hello, ducks.”
So he’s definitely pro-duck.
That probably explains why he has been trying so hard to duck questions about Trump.
You could argue that’s the way it should be, Romney should be his own man, not some oppositional force to an erratic and unpredictable president. And you’d be right.
But that presumes we know who Mitt Romney is — which we don’t.
Take the tariff issue, where he said in March that “tariffs, by and large, are not going to be good for people here in Utah… Tariffs mean that prices of goods we buy here are going to be more expensive.”
A month later, he said big tariffs would “wake up” China. And on his website, Romney says he supports “focused tariffs that penalize cheaters and dumping,” although he sidestepped questions over the weekend on tariffs on our Canadian, Mexican and European allies.
He has been critical of the National Rifle Association, as governor he signed an assault weapons ban, and he supports background checks. Now he has a lifetime membership to the NRA, opposes new gun laws and said states should be the ones regulating firearms.
And, of course, when it comes to Trump, there’s the Romney who said that Trump’s “promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He’s playing the American public for suckers,” then entertained overtures to be his secretary of state — whether or not they were sincere. Romney said he would never accept an endorsement from Trump, then he did and over the weekend predicted Trump would be re-elected. Trump complimented Romney for being “a straight shooter.”
Of course Romney is going to win the Republican primary in two weeks. His Republican opponent, Mike Kennedy, surprised a lot of people by connecting with hard-core conservative convention delegates and tapping into anti-Romney sentiment to force a primary.
Then Kennedy ran a truly awful primary campaign, from apologizing to an anti-Mormon pastor, to claiming endorsements he didn’t have, to altering a photo from a school violence news conference to make it look like he was at a campaign event — flanked by several Democratic legislators.
Maybe it was desperation from an underdog, but Kennedy deserves to lose.
After that, maybe Democrat Jenny Wilson can help bring Romney into focus and we’ll get a better sense of who this character is in 2018.
But I’m not counting on it.
Because Romney has built his political career on letting people believe he is what they want him to be. And at the end of the day, it works to his advantage to let this Mitt-stery be.