Romney's decision to abandon the landed class in Utah and Massachusetts raises a third question: Has the Great Recession doomed one of the great hedge markets of all time—multistate political career shopping? The first President Bush was born in Massachusetts, grew up a senator's son in Connecticut, ran for office in Texas, and vacationed a few miles from New Hampshire at his compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. Romney grew up a governor's son in Michigan, could have run for governor in Massachusetts or Utah, and did Bush one better with a compound on Lake Winnipesaukee, N.H. His four homes spanned 76 electoral votes.
Over the years, multiple residency has been the curse of the politically ambitious and over-privileged. Heisman Trophy winner Pete Dawkins was born in Michigan and graduated a few years ahead of Romney at Cranbrook School, rose to brigadier general after West Point and Oxford, and was mentioned as a potential candidate in nine different states before choosing to run for Senate in New Jersey. James Carville promptly destroyed him as a carpetbagger.
As Dawkins learned the hard way, most places tend to think roots weren't made for walking. Ironically, future generations of Romneys will be better off with fewer homes to choose from.
These days, with most Americans reviewing what's left of their assets, it makes sense for Romney to do the same. He may well have been right to conclude, as the sheep in Animal Farm might say, "Two homes good, four homes bad." At more than $10 million apiece, his two remaining castles would be hard to sell, anyway.
The biggest question about Romney's downsizing, however, is more fundamental. Given his balance sheet, are the two McMansions he sold really the most urgent liabilities to shed? There's not much point bothering with one concession to political reality (that most voters can barely afford one home, let alone two or four) while continuing to deny a more important political reality: Most voters don't buy the conservative economic foundations on which Romney's political future is built.
Last week, Barack Obama described his economic philosophy as "our house built upon the rock." When Republicans finish downsizing, they, too, might want to look for higher ground.