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Authenticity Vs. Purity

Over at The Stump, Noam recaps last night's GOP debate with a very smart point: The GOP race has become a contest between ideological purity (as advocated by Romney and Thompson) and authenticity (which is what Rudy and McCain are selling). But, as Noam argues, it's a shame that Romney decided not to run on authenticity--since the authentic Romney is certainly more attractive than the contrived ideologically pure Romney:

Romney had two very solid answers tonight. The first dealt with his strengths alongside Clinton, regarding which he explained, "I've spent 25 years in the business world, running a small business that became a large one. I've worked in 20 countries around the world, working on investments ... Hillary Clinton wants to run the largest enterprise in the world, the government of the United States. ... She hasn't run a corner store." The other question had to do with entitlements. Romney invoked his experience passing healthcare in Massachusetts and then said: "[Y]ou know, Democrats also love America. As Ronald Reagan used to say, it's not that liberals are ignorant. It's just that what they know is wrong. So, you've got to--you can educate each other... And you find common ground."

There are obvious tactical reasons for Romney to run as a conservative. But sometimes you can't help wishing he'd run more authentically--as the moderate technocrat he is at heart.

The big question for Romney, though, is whether he made a tactical error in running on ideological purity grounds. Maybe Rudy is uniquely situated to run as the authenticity candidate--since his celebrity and his extreme hawkishness afford him a fair amount of wiggle room--but I sometimes wonder why he and not Romney came up with the out-of-the-box outside-the-box campaign strategy. After all, Romney has all that private-sector business experience which would presumably give him an edge when it comes to devising an innovative campaign strategy. But, in terms of innovation, it's the career civil servant (until the last few years) Giuliani who's run circles around Romney. Granted, Romney's executing his campaign strategy with impressive efficiency; but maybe his strategy is too conservative--in both senses of the word.

--Jason Zengerle