I’ve come to the conclusion, as I’m sure many of you have, that Mitt Romney is the “least bad” Republican presidential candidate, both out of the primary field and in comparison with Bush and McCain (much as Paul Ryan must be grudgingly conceded to be a “less bad” VP pick than the frankly demonic Dick Cheney and the total loose cannon that was Sarah Palin). What alarms me about this is my rationale: not that he’s actually more moderate than the other options, not that he supports better policies, etc., but precisely because he seems like a completely nihilistic opportunist. In short, when it comes to Republicans, it seems like the best argument is “at least it’s not an ethos!”
I don’t know quite what to make of this comfort I take in Romney’s nihilism, in his seeming willingness to humiliate himself in every possible way in the service not quite of “power,” but of the simple fact of being president. He’s like a living reductio ad absurdam of my thesis in Why We Love Sociopaths — the fact of striving as such is somehow admirable or reassuring, but instead of “doing whatever it takes” in the sense of skillfully manipulating everyone, having people killed, etc., he’s just flagrantly lying in an easily traceable way.
Yet I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a certain “sincerity” to his disavowal of Romneycare, for instance — precisely because he never cared about the policy one way or another and just wanted to take credit for some kind of big achievement that would help his personal brand as a “moderate Republican who comes up with sensible solutions,” a brand he unceremoniously ditched once it proved detrimental to his presidential ambitions. He’s so sociopathic that he’s willing to throw himself under the bus.
Still, there’s something deeply disturbing about this infamous video where Romney seems genuinely offended that his Democratic opponent would accuse him of being less than 100% pro-choice. On a first, “naive” viewing, we have a man who has bravely broken with his party and is outraged that his sincerity would be questioned. But when we rewatch it in light of the fact that he totally reversed his views within a couple years, perhaps the offense is at a different level: “What the fuck do I have to do to convince you people that I’ll say and do whatever it takes to hold office?”