Saturday, July 23 , 2016, 5:24 am | Fair 66º

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Mark Shields: So, Who’s the Real Mitt Romney?

It's tough to tell where the former and possible future Republican presidential candidate stands on the issues

Mitt Romney, the once and almost certainly future Republican presidential candidate, has great teeth and hair and near-perfect features. He hasn’t gained five pounds in the past 40 years, and I bet, as an adolescent, he never had pimples. To this day, his suits and shirts miraculously never seem to wrinkle.

He looks like the award-winning anchor of your major market “Eyewitness News.” All of the above are superficial but, sadly, real reasons why aging, overweight, unhandsome political reporters might have been expected to give Romney a frosty reception.

Aware of this, Romney in his last presidential campaign, when he met with a small group of national political journalists, would first recall a conversation he supposedly had over breakfast with his equally attractive wife, Ann. He would recount how he had told Ann that he was going to be meeting that day with these “influential, nationally known journalists,” adding, “Tell me, Ann, did you ever imagine even in your wildest dreams that I’d be meeting with such a room full of presidential kingmakers?” To which she snappily replied, “Mitt, you’re not in my wildest dreams!” With one self-deprecating fable, Romney simultaneously flattered his listeners and showed he could laugh at himself. Not bad.

What is not so good, though, is Romney’s continued, clumsy attempts to rewrite his own political record. The latest example was spotted by the Boston Phoenix’s David Bernstein, who noted the deviations between the just-issued paperback version of Romney’s book No Apology and the original, published not quite a year ago.

In 2010, Romney had written that the Obama administration’s economic stimulus “will accelerate the timing of the start of the recovery.” In the paperback, Romney rewrites, “The ‘all-Democrat’ stimulus passed in early 2009 has been a failure.”

What this little discrepancy reminds us of is Romney’s 1994 Massachusetts campaign for the U.S. Senate against the late Ted Kennedy, in which Romney told the Log Cabin Republicans that he would be better than Kennedy in making “equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern.” He called President Bill Clinton’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy “the first of a number of steps that will ultimately lead to gays and lesbians being able to serve openly and honestly in our nation’s military.”

By the time he was courting Republican presidential primary voters, Romney had backed off his support and favored leaving the matter entirely in the military’s hands.

On abortion, the earlier Romney had stated emphatically: “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. ... I believe that Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years and we should sustain and support it. I sustain and support that law and the right of a woman to make that choice.” He won the Massachusetts governorship eight years later pledging to “preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose.” By 2007, Romney declared that he was firmly pro-life.

In late 2005, Romney said the John McCain-Ted Kennedy immigration reform bill “reasonable” — before the 2008 campaign, when he condemned it as an “amnesty plan.”

After signing Massachusetts’ landmark health-care legislation guaranteeing virtually universal coverage, Romney told The New York Times that the law — with its individual mandate to buy insurance similar to that in the federal law that Republicans are now challenging in Congress and the courts — was “95 percent of what I proposed” and “a big part of the legacy I will have personally for my four years’ service as governor.”

Critics have called him a flip-flopper, and one of his 2008 Republican rivals, while acknowledging that all politicians change over time, bluntly told me, “Mitt Romney has more positions than the Kama Sutra.”

Romney is smart, handsome, accomplished, rich, personable and articulate. That’s what he is. What we don’t yet know is who he is.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

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