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Posted at 9:43 AM ET, 12/17/2010

Can you count on Mitt Romney's never-ending pasta bowl?

By Ezra Klein

oliveromney.JPGDavid Frum busts out the "Olive Garden" theory of Mitt Romney:

I sometimes imagine that Romney approaches politics in the same spirit that the CEO of Darden Restaurants approaches cuisine. Darden owns Olive Garden, Longhorn steakhouses, and Red Lobster among other chains. Now suppose that Darden’s data show a decline in demand for mid-priced steak restaurants and a rising response to Italian family dining. Suppose they convert some of their Longhorn outlets to Olive Gardens. Is that “flip-flopping”? Or is that giving people what they want for their money?

Likewise, the “pro-choice” concept met public demand so long as Romney Inc. was a Boston-based senatorship and governorship-seeking enterprise. But now Romney Inc. is expanding to a national brand, with important new growth opportunities in Iowa and South Carolina. A new concept is accordingly required to serve these new markets. Again: this is not flip-flopping. It is customer service.

You may say: But what does Romney think on the inside? Which of his positions is the “real” Romney? I’d answer that question with another question. Suppose an Olive Garden customer returns to the kitchen a plate of fettuccine alfredo, complaining the pasta is overcooked. What should the manager do? Say “I disagree”? Explain that it’s a core conviction to cook pasta to a certain specified number of minutes and seconds, and if the customer doesn’t like it, she’s welcome to take her patronage elsewhere? No! It doesn’t matter what the manager “really” thinks. What matters is satisfying each and every customer who walks through the door to the very best of the manager’s ability.

I enjoyed this analogy, but it doesn't work. The presidency carries a four-year lock-in, while the Olive Garden doesn't. Put it this way: If going to the Olive Garden meant only eating at the Olive Garden for the next four years, it'd be a real problem if they lured you in with pasta and breadsticks and then, three months later, turned the place into a hookah bar that served only salmon burgers. Some people might find that to be an improvement, and some people might not, but that's not the point: A fishy hookah bar isn't what you signed up for.

Frum is right that customer service can be a principle in and of itself. And I'd be really interested to see a presidential candidate promise to better represent the people by explicitly using polls to steer his or her presidency. But that's not what Romney is promising. He's promising to do certain things, and uphold certain values, when in office. If he's lying about that, it's not customer service. It's betrayal yoked to a four-year contract.

Photo credit: Cliff Owen/AP.

By Ezra Klein  | December 17, 2010; 9:43 AM ET
Categories:  2012 Presidential  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: An incoherent Congress
Next: Obama brand remains surprisingly strong


so Frum is saying that Romeny has no beliefs, he's just selling a product- himself.

that's pretty much the truth isn't it?

Posted by: newagent99 | December 17, 2010 9:50 AM | Report abuse

If the GOP had been smart, they would have nominated Romney two years ago and he would be sitting in the Oval Office at this moment. If they are smart they'll nominate him in 2012. After all, he is the only Republican who does not have tiny little birds flying out of his ears.

Here's the problem: They're not smart. That party has been overtaken by a cabal of kooks, criminals and half-wits. It fact "party" is a misnomer. It's not a party. It hasn't been one in thirty years or more. It is now an organized criminal enterprise. Wake up.

Tom Degan

Posted by: tomdeganfrontiernetnet | December 17, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Romney would not have won in 2008.

The great crash and Bush's Iraq blunder made it impossible for any Republican to win unless maybe Kucinich was nominated by the Dems.

Posted by: lauren2010 | December 17, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Unusual times call for unusual arguments.

Posted by: willows1 | December 17, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

"If he's lying about that, it's not customer service. It's betrayal yoked to a four-year contract."

In business terms its 'bait and switch'.


Posted by: bsimon1 | December 17, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

I think you're wrong on this one Ezra. Perception is reality in politics quite often. With Romney - or any politician - it's almost never worth asking what they "really" think. Because there is not a time when they are not concerned about appeasing their base. It doesn't matter whether Romney is really pro-choice or not. What matters is what he says and how he acts (since he's not casting votes as senators do).

McCain is a perfect example of this idea I think. He may actually really be for immigration reform - but at this point, it doesn't matter, because he's gone so far right appeasing his perceived base, that he'll probably not ever be helpful on immigration again. Who knows what McCain actually thinks - and, at this point, who cares!? He votes like a right winger and sounds like one too, and that is all that matters.

Although I think Romney is more moderate/sane on the inside than a lot of his republican counterparts, it just doesn't matter. All that matters is what he says - because that is how he'll govern.

Posted by: blierman | December 17, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Plus, we have a representative Democracy because people don't have time to become expert on every issue instantly.

If you're electing a doctor, you don't want one who only chooses treatments by polls of what laypeople think is best. You want one who will choose the better safer treatment based on complicated science that the laypublic doesn't know about because they don't have giant amounts of time to study things not in their careers.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | December 17, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Actually, whenever I think of Romney I think of that 80's movie, "Say Anything".

What do I think of that issue?

What do you think of that issue?

What a coincidence!

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | December 17, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

The problem with these arguments against Romney is that it will be ludicrous to raise them in a 2012 race against Obama. Obama called for a public option and the repeal of tax cuts for the wealthy. He promised an end to DADT and to close Gitmo. He called for more drilling in the Gulf before imposing a moratorium. He wanted to reform the war on terror, but he gives up on criminal trials, hands prisoners over to the Pakistanis for interrogation, and sends drones against an American citizen in Yemen.

How would Obama possibly have any room to call his opponent a "say-anything" candidate without having that charge blow up in his face?

Posted by: tomtildrum | December 17, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Contrary to Frum, the "customer-service" model he describes makes even more sense for a business with lock-in than one where customers can come and go. Once you've got one segment of the market hooked, you can change your product to go after a different segment without jeopardizing your original profit center. You pretty much have to have a monopoly to make this work, but that's what the political system is heading for.

Posted by: paul314 | December 17, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

If I am free to not eat at Olive Garden, can I be free not to eat of the slop that Klein's federal government serves?

Posted by: msoja | December 17, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

blierman, I disagree. It's not what you say, it's what you do. If you say you're pro-life, but do nothing to restrict abortion, then you are baiting your base. This is what Bush did with respect to domestic issues. And what Obama did with respect to the wars.

Posted by: nickthap | December 17, 2010 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Romney has no shot for the same reason as Hillary Clinton didn't, very smart person with no political instincts whatsoever.

Democrats however should PRAY for a Romney nomination since outside of the never going to happen Palin or Gingrich nomination, Romney would be the easiest to best.

Posted by: 54465446 | December 17, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

--*Democrats however should PRAY for a Romney nomination*--

I've long predicted that Klein will eventually begin to "like" Palin more and more, as the primaries draw near, but I guess it's possible that our dear Valley Girl will fall for the rugged good looks of the father of RomneyCare, instead.

Posted by: msoja | December 17, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Let's apply this reasoning to the incumbent President. Ran on one set of promises (rule of law, middle class tax cuts, health care for all) -- switched in office to Bush-lite executive powers, tax cuts for rich, health insurance companies paid off with new clients. Customer service, where is it?

And I would expect him to be re-elected. Lying to the people apparently has few penalties.

Posted by: janinsanfran | December 17, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

A problem too is that Romney is not just saying whatever he thinks a majority of the public wants to hear. He's saying whatever he thinks is most likely to get him elected.

So, to get re-elected we could expect him to do whatever is most likely to get him re-elected -- and that's very different from what the majority wants. He has to highly disproportionately appease the minority in the Tea Party to avoid defeat in the primaries, and he has to highly disproportionately appease rich special interests to get crucially important campaign money.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | December 17, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Romney's problem to me is that his positions are often nuanced. He seems to hold firm beliefs but they aren't quite as black and white as Republicans would like. For that, he gets criticized and his positions are labeling as shifting.

For example, his recent op-ed on Obama's deal with the Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts didn't indicate he was opposed to extending the cuts. Rather he is oppsed to a two year extension. As I understand it, his belief is that the markets and businesses are desperately seeking some degree of certianly and this deal only pushes the level of uncertianly out for two years. His theory is that businesses must now ask what will happen in 2012? Will the rates rise then? Will they rise as Obamacare kicks in? Against this uncertian backdrop they will be making business decisions today and we will have done nothing to give them the confidence they need to hire and invest. Romney's position is that we need to make a choice and say this is the way it will be; no end, no expiration dates, period. Plan accordingly.

Unfortunately a postion like that can appear to be for something at the same time he is against it.

Posted by: Ci2Eye | December 17, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse


There is always the possibility of a black swan event, but barring that Palin is unlikely to even run, or to get the nomination if she does.

Posted by: 54465446 | December 17, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

If the GOP had been smart and nominated Mitt Romney in 2008, he would be sleeping in the White House at this very moment. If they are smart they'll nominate him in 2012. Let us face some serious and uncomfortable facts here, boys and girls: Romney is the ONLY potential Republican candidate who doesn't have little birds flying out of his ears.

Here's the problem. They're not smart. The religious bigots and half-with who have hijacked the "party of Lincoln" will never, EVER nominate a Mormon. To quote the old Ringo Starr song, "pigs will fly and the earth will fry" before THAT ever happens. Take that to the bank. On second thought, stuff it under the mattress. It's safer there.

Tom Degan

Posted by: tomdeganfrontiernetnet | December 18, 2010 7:48 AM | Report abuse


Would have gotten killed in 2008, will get stepped on 2012. Your political instincts are no better than his!

Posted by: 54465446 | December 18, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

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