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Bob Zoellick and the Real Mitt Romney

Among the many developments that a combination of a heavy workload and several nights of sleep deprivation have kept me from writing about this week is the controversy within some conservative circles about Mitt Romney’s selection of Bob Zoellick to head up his national security transition team. The FT’s Gideon Rachman has taken pity on me and written a column perfectly encapsulating my thoughts on the matter:

This is taken as a strong hint that Zoellick might be Secretary of State in a Romney administration – and he will certainly have a major influence on the senior appointments.

Zoellick has all the qualities to be an excellent Secretary of State. He is vastly experienced. He played a key role in the diplomacy that led up to the reunification of Germany, under the first President Bush. He is also steeped in economics and development. His most recent job was president of the World Bank, and he has worked at the top of the US Treasury. That is the kind of expertise that would be very useful, in responding to the euro crisis and to the rise of China.

Above all, in a modern Republican Party that has a disturbingly nationalist streak, Zoellick is a natural internationalist. Of course, he is a patriot and would work to protect and advance American interests – that is the job, after all. But he has none of the contempt for foreigners or international institutions that characterises the worst of the Republican right.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Zoellick is that he has the right enemies. The repellent John Bolton – the very epitome of swaggering nationalism – loathes Zoellick. I have seen the two clash publicly. Some had even suggested that Bolton might be Secretary of State under Romney. That would be a disaster. It is both telling and encouraging, therefore, that the paleo-conservatives in the GOP have reacted badly to news of Zoellick’s appointment.

By “paleo-conservatives,” he means what we on this side of the Pond call “neo-conservatives.” And quite.  Rachman’s close is a bit harsh but, again, right:

In fact, Zoellick is so intelligent and decent that I have sometimes wondered what he is doing in the modern Republican Party. People  who share his approach certainly feel like a dwindling minority in the GOP. Interestingly, one politician who is similar in outlook, is also regarded as a frontrunner for the vice-presidential nomination. Senator Rob Portman was a solid US Trade Representative, who is level headed and knows the world.

If Romney were to choose Portman as his running-mate, that would confirm the impression made by the appointment of Zoellick to the transition team. Beneath the pandering and the campaign cynicism, there may lurk a decent potential president.

Romney’s campaign has been, to say the least, a disappointment. He’s clearly calculated that the most likely path to the White House is to run against the status quo. Rejecting the conventional wisdom that a challenger must present an alternative vision, he’s instead steadfastly avoided talking about policy at all. Similarly, while the conventional wisdom has always been that the general election campaign is about targeting centrist “swing voters,” he’s instead calculated that there aren’t enough of them to matter and that his key challenge is to motivate the base.

My sense all along has been that Romney, while willing to say pretty much anything on the campaign trail, is actually the guy who governed with substantial success as a moderate Republican (sorry, “severe conservative”) in liberal Democratic Massachusetts. While his foreign policy team includes enough neocons to keep that part of the base happy, his policy papers have strongly hinted at a conventionally Realist foreign policy. The Zoellick choice is a really welcome reinforcement of that message and the notion that he might emerge as Secretary of State rather than, say, John Bolton strikes me as much more in keeping with Romney’s history. You get a mustache either way.

In terms of his running mate, Portman has been the odds-on favorite all along. He’d be a solid choice. My only concern there is that Romney’s horrendously lackluster campaign has put him so far behind at this point that “solid” might not be enough.

That said, given that we’re less than three months from the election, I’d much prefer if Romney were delivering passionate speeches telling us how he’d govern the country if elected president rather than us having to guess from reading the tea leaves. That is, after all, the tradition.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Eric says:

    This is certainly welcoming news. Romney for the entire campaign, is characterized as being a “flip-flopper” (and with good reason) which makes him really hard to read and predict what he would do were he to win the presidency. I know Romney is a smart guy and I know that he can be a good president, but it’s just so hard to see that in him with his campaigning because he is trying to please the mainstream conservatives (mostly the outspoken hard-right wingers).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  2. john personna says:

    Where is he on “bomb Iran” signals?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  3. C. Clavin says:

    Unfortunately Romney and Zoellick together do not have the stones it takes to stand up to anyone…much less anyone with money. Adelson is giving how much to this campaign? When it comes to Israel and Middle-Eastern policy who do you think is going to be wearing the pants? Adelson…that’s right.
    As Larison said:

    “…some of the sudden enthusiasm for Zoellick is based on little more than wishful thinking that this appointment means a lot more than it does…”

    It seems to me that you are a partisan is search of a rationale.
    Here’s the inescapable fact…there is no Real Mitt Romney.
    And that will never be clearer than on January 21st when Adelson and the Koch’s and Simmons and Thiel and Foster Freise show up at the White House for breakfast…with lists of demands in their sweaty little hands.
    Bob Zoellick be damned.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  4. stonetools says:

    How is Zellick and Romney on resisting neo-cons? I support Israel, but I don’t think we need to be going to war with Iran in order to maintain Israel’s nuclear monopoly in the middle East. Romney seems to think that’s a great idea.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  5. DRS says:

    My sense hope all along has been that Romney, while willing to say pretty much anything on the campaign trail, is actually the guy who governed with substantial success as a moderate Republican (sorry, “severe conservative”) in liberal Democratic Massachusetts.

    Look James, it’s a testament to your sunny disposition that you’re still an optimist about these things and if we end up with Romney as president, I fervently hope you’re right. But this is a guy who even panders to Donald Trump, who is as lunatic a public figure as walks the earth right now who wasn’t born in North Korea. If he can’t tell Trump to go pound sand, what makes you think he’s going to stand up to anyone he thinks he needs to keep on side? If he wins one term, he’ll immediately start worrying about winning the second term, and if he wins a second term he’ll worry about leaving a “legacy”. (Romney strikes me as a hardcore legacy-leaver – another daddy-issues guy.)

    Seriously, where is this principled guy hiding?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  6. al-Ameda says:

    In fact, Zoellick is so intelligent and decent that I have sometimes wondered what he is doing in the modern Republican Party. People who share his approach certainly feel like a dwindling minority in the GOP.

    Exactly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  7. Scott says:

    It is probably too late for this liberal Republican to be convinced to vote Republican this time around. Romney has shown no character and no center.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  8. DRS says:

    Daniel Larison addresses your post on his blog: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/larison/grasping-at-straws/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  9. MBunge says:

    Yeah, Larison is pretty much The Man when it comes to defusing all this fantasizing about “The Real Romney” from guys likes James. I can only say that if someone does X a thousand times and does Y once, you’ve got to be a damn fool to think Y reveals that person’s true nature.

    Mike

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  10. swbarnes2 says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Here’s the inescapable fact…there is no Real Mitt Romney.

    Or rather, the real Mitt Romney doesn’t mattter. What matters are the policies he would actaully implement, the bills he would actually sign, not what’s “in his heart”.

    Richard Grenell was probably hired by the “real” Mitt Romney. Romney’s base wanted him out of there. Which influence prevailed at the end of the day?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  11. steve says:

    James- I would have voted for the Romney of 2003. I voted for Bush in 2004. I kind of suspect that you are correct about him when it comes to domestic policy. I suspect he would be relatively moderate. But on foreign policy? I mostly see him signaling that he is aligned with the neocon right. I think one of us has observational bias, and of course I think it is you. EVen in your cited piece, I think Cohen is giving us pretty standard neocon talk, just a little bit kinder and gentler. Saying that they will embrace hard and soft power is not the same as saying they would favor the use of soft power over hard when appropriate.

    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  12. michael reynolds says:

    In fact, Zoellick is so intelligent and decent that I have sometimes wondered what he is doing in the modern Republican Party. People who share his approach certainly feel like a dwindling minority in the GOP.

    Much the same thing many of us think about you, James.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  13. michael reynolds says:

    Nancy Reagan.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  14. michael reynolds says:

    Again, WTF Reynolds? Nancy Reagan is supposed to be in a whole different . . . Okay, seriously, time for Ritalin.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  15. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: Oh, there’s no doubt that the Hagel-Scowcroft-Huntsman-Joyner wing of the party is becoming very small. At some point, we might not even be a wing of the party any more. But I’d really like to swing it back rather than jumping ship. The Democrats are reasonably sensible right now precisely because Reagan and others forced them to move to the center; I’d hate to see where they’d go if all that was left of the GOP is a Southern extremist rump that’s not a threat to win national elections.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  16. stonetools says:

    @James Joyner:

    Jon Huntman’s early exit from the primaries and the expulsion retirement of just about every sensible moderate bodes ill for you, James. Good luck trying to swing the GOP back to sanity.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  17. john personna says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’ve always put it down to a mistaken lesson from the end of the cold war. As “markets” triumphed everyone forgot that we won with a mixed economy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  18. Tano says:

    @James Joyner:

    precisely because Reagan and others forced them to move to the center

    That is quite a myth. jimmy Carter was a centrist before Reagan pushed anyone anywhere – he was the most conservative alternative amongst the Dems in ’76, and, of course, he inspired a revolt on his left from Ted Kennedy that ultimately doomed him. Carter led the way on the deregulation movement that dominated the last few decades of the century, he appointed Paul Volcker to the Fed with the mission to drive inflation out of the economy even at the cost of a recession (something that Reagan got all the credit for), and he was infinitely more fiscally responsible than Reagan.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  19. Tsar Nicholas says:

    On several fronts that’s a funny article, combining strains of DSM-specified projection with Republican Derangement Syndrome, and stopped clock syndrome to boot, along with simultaneously being flippant, glib and santimonious, which is an amazing trifecta. Of course that ham handed “intellect” quip was the primary howler, but there were others. That it was penned by someone whose career almost entirely has consisted of opining upon and pontificating about what other people have said and done adds self-parody to the mix. Hell, when a full-time academic becomes a full-time journalist and then starts preening and sneering about experience and competence, or lack thereof, you couldn’t capture all the ensuing ironies with a flow chart.

    In any event, Zoellick would be well qualified for several cabinet posts, from State, to Treasury, to OMB, and others in between. Obviously Portman would make for a fine veep choice. We’ll know soon enough what Romney’s thinking on the latter front and soon enough too whether or not the former is moot. I’m quite sure the likes of Rachman will have opinions about them. I’m entirely certain that those opinions will be of no real consequence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  20. DRS says:

    @James Joyner:

    At some point, we might not even be a wing of the party any more.

    Kind of lonely being part of a feather, isn’t it?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. Ben Wolf says:

    Zoellick is a terrible choice for Romney or any other potential administration. He represents the worst in neo-liberal economics and its obsession with privatization in favor of corporate cronies, free trade agreements which amount to licenses to strip the United States of capital and jobs, and deregulation and fraud in the financial industry. The man is corupt through-and-through, so forgive me for not caring how “thoughtful” he is as he merrily plays a role in the government-industry profit machine.

    Oh, and he worked as a managing director for Goldman Sachs. Odd that Rachman skips that one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  22. gVOR08 says:

    Mitt Romney may well wish to pursue a conventionally realistic foreign policy. He may also be willing to take the hit from his base and somehow keep ObamaRomneycare. He may want to do something realistic on immigration. He may at a personal level be entirely reasonable on reproductive rights and gays. He may not have any desire to destroy unions and suppress votes. He may recognize the reality and implications of global warming. He may well be a closet Keynesian who will do the right things to end the recession and then pivot to sensible deficit reduction, with tax increases and realistic spending cuts.

    Why would I vote for the guy who one might hope would be reasonable on these things instead of for the incumbent who has demonstrated he is reasonable on these things?

    And there is just no way I can believe that Romney will be reasonable on taxes, which means he can’t do deficit reduction without draconian cuts.

    James, you’re often asked why you’re still a Republican. In comments above you offered an explanation, that you hope to help resurrect a reasonable Republican party. A respectable, and laudable, goal. The current GOP terrifies me. But do you see any realistic hope for reform without a really big whack upside the head for the GOP? Maybe your best plan is to help re-elect Obama.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  23. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08:

    The current GOP terrifies me. But do you see any realistic hope for reform without a really big whack upside the head for the GOP? Maybe your best plan is to help re-elect Obama.

    Had, say, Rick Santorum won, I’d absolutely be doing just that. Indeed, as I noted quite early, I’d likely have endorsed Obama over any of the non-Mormon candidates. (I’m not counting Buddy Roemer or Gary Johnson; they didn’t even merit inclusion in the debates.)

    Romney is only a slight improvement over Obama for me. But the danger for the GOP is that, if he loses—which I’d spitball at a 60% likelihood—is that the base will take the message: That’s What We Got For Nominating Another Moderate. That may well also run the likes of me out of the party. But I think it’d be a disaster for the country unless and until a DLC equivalent forms in the GOP. And that might take 20 years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  24. @James Joyner:

    Seems to me he’s shaping up to be bad Mitt, just the way GWB turned out being bad George.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  25. (The candidate himself green-lighted an Israeli attach on Iran. That was awful. I’m not even sure it was legal. Did it violate the Logan Act?)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  26. swbarnes2 says:

    @James Joyner:

    Romney is only a slight improvement over Obama for me.

    What areas of policy do you prefer the base Republican stance to the Democratic one? More wars? No legal protection for gay people? Less infrastructure? Fewer people with access to healthcare? More pollution? Fewer people voting? What evidence is there that Romney will cross the base on any of these topics?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  27. anjin-san says:

    The fact that Romney has one sane buddy does not really impress me. When he publicly denounces Trump’s extremism, I will be impressed. Failing that, I see Zoellick as a token rational person and one more example of Mitt trying to be all things to all people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  28. grumpy realist says:

    As stated above, I don’t give a rat’s patootie about Teh Real Mitt Romney. What I want to know is what Fake Romney is going to do when Billy Kristol and Adelson and John Bolton and Grover Norquist come roaring up the White House steps demanding a)immediate atomic bombing of Iran b) immediate bombing of Russia c)cutting all tax rates to 0%. In short, can Mitt show he has the guts to slap down really stupid ideas from his supporters?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  29. James Joyner says:

    @grumpy realist:

    What I want to know is what Fake Romney is going to do when Billy Kristol and Adelson and John Bolton and Grover Norquist come roaring up the White House steps demanding a)immediate atomic bombing of Iran b) immediate bombing of Russia c)cutting all tax rates to 0%.

    I am quite confident that, regardless of who’s president come January 20th, none of those things will be seriously suggested to him, much less come to pass.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  30. anjin-san says:

    I am quite confident that, regardless of who’s president come January 20th, none of those things will be seriously suggested to him, much less come to pass.

    When the war drums with Iraq stated beating, I remember thinking “Nahhh, they have to be saber rattling. No one is that stupid.”

    What exactly is your confidence based on?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  31. James Joyner says:

    @anjin-san: There was a bipartisan consensus, going back to the Clinton administration, that regime change in Iraq was necessary. Conversely, while the same consensus exists that a nuclear Iran is “unacceptable,” the adults also acknowledge there are no good options for making it stop aside from offering Iran incentives. Bush-Cheney never came close to going to war in Iran despite neocon pressure. Obama, who’s been arguably more prone to use military force than his predecessor, has likewise not ratcheted things up there. The same bureaucratic machinery will be there in 2013 yelling STOP,.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  32. al-Ameda says:

    @James Joyner:

    Bush-Cheney never came close to going to war in Iran despite neocon pressure.

    Can you imagine opening up a third front in 2003? Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran?

    We were already in Iraq based on a false premise, and if we had decided to go to war in Iran the premise would have been that Iran was arming our enemies in Iraq, plus we probably would have thrown in “nuclear threat” too. What a colossal mess that would have been.

    As it is, we strengthened Iran’s power in the region by taking out Iraq. As they said, “Mission Accomplished.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  33. Moosebreath says:

    James,

    “the adults also acknowledge there are no good options for making it stop aside from offering Iran incentives.”

    The problem is, Mitt has lots of advisors who are not “adults”, starting with John Bolton.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  34. Karen Hudes says:

    @Ben Wolf: Ben, you hit the nail on the head. The reason that Zoellick didn’t get a second term was because of corruption. Zoellick’s cover-up and illegality and contempt of Congress, and cooking the books at the World Bank were so horrendous that he put the US credit rating at risk.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  35. Zoelick is known in Brazil because he criticized Brazil during the FTAA negotiations and said that Brazil would only have Antarctica as market because the country was showing restrictions to the idea of a Free trade agreement in the continent(Then President Lula would say that his opinion did not matter because he was the under of the under of the under*).

    I don´t know whether that is the kind of Foreign Policy that Romney wants. Specially because know a Free Trade agreement would be much better for Brazil than for the US, specially if things like commodities, airplanes and steel are on play.

    *- Yes, what Lula really said is difficult to be translated from the Portuguese.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. Tano says:

    @James Joyner:

    Obama, who’s been arguably more prone to use military force than his predecessor

    I can’t believe you wrote that sentence James.
    Would you care to add up for us all of the Obama military deployments that can stack up to that little unpleasantness between the Tigris and the Euphrates?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  37. anjin-san says:

    @ James

    There was a bipartisan consensus, going back to the Clinton administration, that regime change in Iraq was necessary.

    Yea, but I missed the part where the Clinton administration launched an unprovoked war on Iraq that cost us 5K dead and a trillion dollars, with the bonus feature of turning Iraq into a pro Iranian state, and an emboldened Iran, freed from the regional balance that a hostile Iraq once provided.

    “Consensus” is one thing – mostly DC chatter. Taking an insane course of action and making it national policy is something else entirely – and you know it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  38. anjin-san says:

    Obama, who’s been arguably more prone to use military force wisely than his predecessor

    FTFY

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  39. jukeboxgrad says:

    an unprovoked war on Iraq that cost us 5K dead and a trillion dollars

    The true price tag is probably over $3 trillion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  40. danshanteal says:

    Don’t tell anyone but Mitt has it in the bag in November. Take the 2010 mid-term results and add 20% for a second shellacking. I have read nothing by Zoellick and read Bolton’s book Surrender Is Not An Option twice.You can’t catch the naunces on the first goround. He points up the real arrogance of the English and French and essentially puts them in their place. If Joe Biden tried cutting your legs off, you’d be a happy camper, too. As to the neo-cons, we’ve had enuf of those birds.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0