Todd Domke

Mitt, welcome to ‘The Twilight Zone’

By Todd Domke
March 12, 2011

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FOR MITT ROMNEY, Massachusetts has become “The Twilight Zone.’’

Politically, it’s a blue state, but to the former governor, it’s a gray area.

To win the GOP presidential nomination, he wants to distance himself from this state — from RomneyCare, from Senator Scott Brown, from the wipeout of Republican candidates here in 2010. But can he escape?

Rod Serling sets the stage:

“Massachusetts is not just a state; it’s a state of mind. This is where pilgrims landed, taxpayers revolted, and witches burned. But what burns in one politician is ambition — ambition to leave his state and move into a big white house in Washington, D.C. For Mr. Mitt Romney, this state has become a nightmare. He wants to pack his political baggage and exit stage right, but he can’t leave because this state is his . . . Twilight Zone.’’

In every “Twilight Zone,’’ there’s a twist. That is also true of this episode, which we’ll call, “Mittachusetts.’’

Scott Brown, moderate When Brown ran in the Senate special election, Romney helped him in two major ways: 1) staff and seed money, and 2) staying out of sight, rather than campaigning with him.

To share the limelight on election night, Romney appeared at the victory celebration to introduce Brown to the national TV audience as his American idol and BFF.

After that historic win, Republicans were euphoric about Brown and some speculated that he would be a good presidential candidate. Brown demurred, saying he would support Romney. A Romney-Brown alliance wasn’t surprising since Romney’s handlers also handled Brown.

TWIST: A year later, many conservatives are disillusioned with Brown because he has supported liberal legislation and made high-profile compromises with Democrats. So now Romney, a former moderate himself, doesn’t want conservatives to view him as Brown’s sponsor, ally, or mentor. When asked about Brown in Iowa and South Carolina, he will praise his inspiring victory, but not his voting record, independence, or leadership.

Likewise, Brown has apparently concluded he could lose reelection if seen as a Mittite. He now says he might be too busy to campaign for Romney. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,’’ he praised Romney as a person, but lauded Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey as a genuine leader.

State GOP debacle in 2010 Last year was a tidal wave for Republicans nationally, but a mud puddle for the state GOP.

Republicans here lost every statewide office and congressional race, plus a state Senate seat.

Following Romney’s lead, GOP operatives and the National Republican Congressional Committee put many of their eggs in one scandalous basket: the congressional campaign of Jeff Perry, who allegedly stood by while a fellow police officer illegally strip-searched a 14-year-old girl. Not only did Romney show poor judgment and poor vetting, he was slippery in avoiding questions about Perry’s multiple scandals. He instead let Brown take the heat by doing a radio spot vouching for Perry’s character.

TWIST: Romney keeps control of the state GOP not only to secure convention delegates, but also as a base to influence the New Hampshire presidential primary. But in 2010, New Hampshire Republicans noticed that they swept all key offices while the Mass. GOP had a meltdown. When they learn Romney was “the invisible man’’ in this fiasco, and realize that in 2004 Romney lost legislative seats during his time in the governor’s office, some will say: “The emperor has no coattails!’’

RomneyCare President Obama and other Democrats enjoy praising Romney for creating RomneyCare, calling it the model for ObamaCare. They know their praise is the kiss of death to many Republicans.

Representative Paul Ryan, GOP chairman of the House Budget Committee, had to admit: “It’s not that dissimilar to ObamaCare.’’

TWIST: As presidential candidate, Romney proudly touted RomneyCare as a model for the country. In an Iowa debate in 2007, he said: “What you have to do is what we did in Massachusetts.’’ But Saturday in New Hampshire he said, “Our approach was a state plan intended to address problems that were in many ways unique to Massachusetts.’’ He said Massachusetts is just “one of the laboratories of democracy.’’

“Laboratory’’ is one way to describe this state. But to Mitt, it’s “The Twilight Zone.’’

Todd Domke is a Boston-area Republican political analyst, public relations strategist, and author.