At the Washington Post, Ezra Klein explores a topic that has puzzled many of us on the left for months: Why does Mitt Romney want to be president?
Apparently, it’s because he likes data — and he believes that what the United States government needs is a strong manager.
In 2007, when Mitt Romney sat down with the Wall Street Journal editorial board, the candidate for the Republican presidential nomination was eager for the influential paper’s blessing. What he got, instead, was their bemusement.
The paper’s account of the interview begins with a three-word quote from Romney: “I love data.” The Journal editors go on to slyly note, “Mitt Romney has been speaking for less than two minutes when he makes this profession.” They then quote him again. “I used to call it ’wallowing in the data.’ Let me see the data. I want to see the client’s data, the competitors’ data. I want to see all the data.”
The Journal’s conservative editorial board didn’t want to see the data. They wanted to see the ideology. They wanted to know whether Romney was one of them. But he seemed uncomfortable with that line of questioning. “When asked whether his ‘nuts- and-bolts’ approach can possibly succeed in an ideological, divided age, he returns to the nuts and bolts.” Pressed by the board, Romney begins to stammer. “Obviously, I have — just like in the consulting world — I have ’concepts’ that I believe.” You can almost see the flop sweat…
What Romney values most is something most of us don’t think much about: management. A lifetime of data has proven to him that he’s extraordinarily, even uniquely, good at managing and leading organizations, projects and people. It’s those skills, rather than specific policy ideas, that he sees as his unique contribution. That has been the case everywhere else he has worked, and he assumes it will be the case in the White House, too. When we look at Romney’s career and see a coreless opportunist, we’re just looking at the wrong data.
This is why Romney thinks he should be president. A lifetime of data has proved to him that his management skills constitute a unique and powerful contribution. In Romney’s world, there’s nothing strange about that, which may also explain his willingness to be unusually strategic, even cynical, about the policies he supports.