How much does it say about Mitt Romney that he opted to fly to Wyoming for a fund-raising dinner hosted by Dick Cheney on Thursday, having delegated his brother, Scott Romney (you know, the well-known ... sorry, who is he again?), to stand in for him at another fund-raiser in Connecticut the same day? The one featuring Henry Kissinger.
Uhhh, probably not all that much. Romney is trying to manage the difficult, if not impossible, task of uniting a fractious party composed of broken elements of the former George W. Bush administration, a still-vociferous neocon movement (what does it take to put those guys away, a silver stake?), a new tea party-dominated base and a fading but still deeply monied traditional GOP center. And let's be real, the exclusive Cheney event is $30,000 a couple, whereas the one in Stamford, Ct., is just $2,500 a plate (even though it's at the Trump Tower).
Still, there is a message about choices here. Despite Cheney's substantial responsibility for an eight-year record that most historians now agree may well add up to the worst presidency in American history -- a tenure so laden with debt and government overextension (especially abroad) that it probably did far more than Barack Obama to trigger the tea-party rebellion -- George W. Bush's vice president still commands respect and loyalty in the Republican Party. Henry Kissinger, by contrast, is a figure from the past--and the representative of a fissure in the GOP that goes all the way back to the proto-debate between moderate supporters of Cold War detente (Kissinger-Nixon) and the incipient neocon-Reaganite impulse to confront evil regimes.
In that debate the man who even now jokingly refers to his reputation as Darth Vader (Cheney) -- or at least his views-- prevailed over the brilliant diplomat and historian who, at a wizened 89, is seen as the Yoda of Republican foreign policy (Kissinger). And Mitt Romney has let us know, again and again, where his own foreign-policy views lie: with confrontation and regime change over Kissingerian realpolitik.
Whether the subject is Iran, Russia, China or even little Venezuela (whose buffoonish and ailing leader, Hugo Chavez, was labeled a serious national security threat by Romney yesterday), Romney has now fairly consistently embraced an ultra-hawkish, even neoconservative set of views across the globe. Despite a foreign-policy advisory team that runs the gamut from moderate to certifiable (John Bolton), it is clearer than ever to whom he is listening. He has chosen confrontation over detente. Cheney over Kissinger. Darth over Yoda.
And that is telling us more and more about what kind of a President Romney we can expect abroad as well as at home. As is the case with his passionate dedication to repealing "Obamacare"--a goal of such overriding importance to him that he felt obliged to repeat it before a hostile NCAAP crowd on Wednesday -- Romney has barely, if at all, moved to the center in the more than three months since effectively securing the Republican nomination.
Romney said it best himself, perhaps, when after being booed at the NAACP -- in what my colleague Jackie Koszczuk observed was probably only just another ploy to appease his still-restive conservative base-- he declared proudly that "I want people to know what I stand for, and if I don't stand for what they want, go vote for someone else. That's just fine."
That seems to be just fine too with the Obama campaign, which is seeking to define Romney early in just this way--as too far right for the Oval Office. Romney's cheerful night out with old Darth will help that effort. And something else is, perhaps, becoming a little bit clearer: one reason Obama is not yet an underdog, despite a historically bad economy, is that Romney hasn't done a very good job of persuading the country that he's the overdog, at least not yet. More of an overlord maybe.