Thursday, January 26, 2012

Mitt Romney: the Last Republican President?

There's a very provocative piece in the American Thinker about Romney (here) that suggests Mitt Romney may be the last Republican president, ever. Here's a takaway:

This is the last hurrah of the Republican establishment. The conservatives and libertarians will vote for Romney in November, but only because he is not Barack Obama. There will be no enthusiasm, which will hurt the down ballot contests for the U.S. Senate, the House and state governorships. Despite the factors weighing against Obama in this upcoming election, it will be a much closer contest that it should be; perhaps a razor thin victory for Romney.

If Romney were to lose the election, there will be a grass-roots revolt against the Republican Party which will spell its demise. If he wins and the nation, through the mis-directed policies of Romney and the Republicans in the Congress, continues on its current path of compromising and nibbling around the edges of the nation's problems, then Romney will be the last Republican president and the specter of the Democrats re-assuming power will be a reality.

So, here's a straight-up fact: there are more conservatives than there are Republicans. 40% of America is conservative, a number that holds quite steady over time. 30%, more or less, is Republican. This means many will hold their noses and hope for the best with Romney.

Conservatives have a very uneasy alliance with the Republican Party. Often, when Republicans make the mistake of nominating a moderate (Ford, Bush the Elder, Dole, McCain...), conservatives stay home and Republicans lose (giving lie to the conventional wisdom that Republicans need to win the middle to get elected). But this election may be different. Antipathy towards Obama's imperial liberalism runs so deep that conservatives will likely rally around anyone, even Romney.

The Tea Party is the manifestation of conservative displeasure with the Republican establishment. For now, they realize that splintering into a new political party would be self-defeating. But if Romney loses the general, you will either see a wholesale attack for control of the Republican party or, perhaps more likely, a wholesale defection. "Never again," they will cry. Never again will they trust the establishment.

If Romney wins, conservatives will be united in the hope that Romney is the conservative he claims to be. The problem is, all the evidence is that he's more of a George H.W. Bush, who, if you recall, pretended to be Reagan's conservative heir to get elected in 1988, and then was thrown out on his ass when he turned out to be the squishy moderate conservatives always thought him to be. 

Temperamentally, Romney reminds one of HW, too. One of HW's great flaws was that he wanted everyone to like him, a very bad trait if one wants to be a great leader. Ronald Reagan went to sleep every night knowing a third of the country hated him, and he slept like a baby. Churchill was much the same. 
Romney, on the other hand, wants to be liked, and here's the issue: the great problems that need fixing will require great wars to fix. The left will fight with everything they have to protect the status quo, and anyone who reaches for the big, game-changing fixes will be crucified in their circles as well as by their hand puppets, the media. Does anyone think Romney has the stomach for that?

Which leaves us with the second scenario: Romney wins and turns out to be HW, leaving conservatives feeling had. It is unlikely they give the the establishment any more chances. Look for a new party - the Constitution Party? - to be the result. This will consign the Republican Party to the ash heap and open the door for Democrats to run the table for years.

Not pretty either way.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Obama's Coming Debate Problem

Many have commented on how they'd love to see Newt debate Obama. The Naked Dollar concurs, but not at the cost of having Newt as the nominee.

What has gone unremarked is how much of a problem Obama will have debating any of the Republicans.

Debating is a skill that comes with practice. The first time you're up there, it can be terrifying. Witness poor Rick Perry, who improved markedly, but not enough to overcome his opening night gaffe. Look at Mitt Romney, who is far more skilled and disciplined (if uninspiring) this time than four years ago.

Barack Obama has never really had to debate anybody. McCain? Sorry, no. He was terrified to lay a glove on Obama for fear of being labelled a racist or a mean old man. And Obama, at the time, was a complete unknown with virtually no legislative record in the Senate or the Illinois House, so he had nothing to defend. He could say whatever he wanted, attack without being attacked.

Now, he is the 100% owner of three years of miserable performance. It is a target rich environment, to say the least, and I don't think any of the Republicans will be shy about going after him. The racist charge won't hold water this time, and whomever the nominee is, he will have spent six months in the toughest debating boot camp ever. He will be ready.

But let's think further back. Can you think of a time in his life when Obama has ever been seriously challenged, about anything? His political races, pre-McCain, were largely cake walks, and his years in academia would have provided him with full immunity from argument, given his race and political persuasion. If a faculty member at Occidental, Columbia, Harvard, or Chicago had ever taken issue with him, concerns for political correctness would have been more than enough to ensure their silence.

No, Obama has spent his life in a pleasant echo chamber, one where conclusions can be glib and rarely challenged, where knowing nods are exchanged in the faculty lounge. In my experience, this makes for people who wilt easily when confronted with rational arguments that don't conform their belief systems. The result is usually petulance and name calling.

Looking for a good debater? Look for a conservative who went to a northeaster college (see: Ivy League) or a liberal who grew up in the South. When you're always on the defensive you learn that you must understand issues deeply. Take Bill Clinton. He spent much of his life negotiating the conservative waters of Arkansas, so he knows a thing or two about how conservatives think and what their arguments are. Obama? He still doesn't. In fact, he recently said he prefers watching the TV show Homeland to the Republican debates.

Does Obama have enough self-awareness to know any of this? No. The narcissism runs too deep. But The Naked Dollar predicts that his staff knows enough to be worried every time he speaks without a teleprompter. They will fight for the minimum number of debates possible. The other prediction: a flinty, defensive performance with at least one major gaffe.

Newt Has Lost It

I love Newt as a debater, I really do. And I once loved him as speaker. And I can even hold my nose enough to believe he is a changed man. But I cannot forgive either his attacks on Bain Capital and the Ryan Plan. He has lost the Naked Dollar.

Newt was the one running a positive campaign, the happy warrior for for small government conservatism. But no more. Paul Ryan's plan was the best anyone's done to date in terms of solving the entitlement mess. Perfect or not, it took political courage to step on politics' "third rail." You expect to by demonized by Democrats, but other Republicans? As they say, with friends like these...

Then there's Bain. Does Bain Capital ever fire people? Of course they do, but these are ailing companies that they buy. The drill is you nurse them back to health so what's left can prosper and, yes, employ people. Bain and other private equity firms plays a vital in our free enterprise system. Would you rather these companies go under? Or be socialized? Once again, we fully expect Democrats to distort the facts in order to score cheap points with an ill-informed electorate (assist to teachers unions).

But Republicans? Newt? He was supposed to be free enterprise's most ardent defender. Instead, he comes off like a political hack looking for the easy score. Shame on him.

Is the Naked Dollar for Romney, at this point? No, not yet. There's still Santorum, whom people seem to overlook. He is reliably conservative and has blue collar appeal, having won many times in Pennsylvania. What he lacks is charisma and the "look" of a president. Right now, those deficiencies are far surpassed by the deficiencies of others.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mitt Romney and the Threat to the Conservative Brand

One recurring problem conservatives have is that the general public keeps getting them confused with the Republican Party. Oh, occasionally, the two act in concert, and this was most true during the Reagan years. But there's a reason the Tea Party exists, and a reason that 40% of the country calls itself conservative and yet only 30% call themselves Republicans. The alliance between conservatives and the Republican Party establishment is, and always has been, an uneasy one. Suspicion runs deep.

But the public, as we know, is not terribly informed about, well, anything. We don't need to see any more of Jay Leno's Man in the Street segments to figure this out. (My favorite...Jay, pointing to an American flag: "How many stars on that flag over there?" Woman: "I can't tell, it's waving.") The public tends to equate the Republican Party with conservatism, which is rarely the case. Thus, when a Republican president does something stupid and non-conservative, conservatives get blamed, too. This was a problem with Nixon, Ford, and both Bushes. (Think...wage/price controls, ADA, prescription drugs for seniors, Bush 1 tax hikes, etc., etc.)

What happens then is that a Democrat gets elected in response to the "conservative" mistakes, and then we really get screwed.

(A relative of mine, a Republican, voted for Obama based on the logic that McCain would have been a terrible president (true) and would have delivered Hillary unto us. The problem with this logic, of course, is that it delivered Obama unto us.)

And so Romney. I have several friends who know him, and there's always a wink and a nod; he has to pretend to be moderate to win, but when he does, you'll see, he's a good conservative.

I have a number of problems with this line of thought:

  1. Moderate Republicans don't typically win, while conservative ones do. (See a piece I wrote on this here.) BUT, antipathy towards Obama runs so high that this might just be the cycle where it doesn't matter. Still...
  2. When was the last time someone went to Washington and turned out to be more conservative than you thought? (See: never)
  3. There is no evidence, anywhere, that Romney has conservative values.
I will count myself as happily wrong if Romney truly has been quietly harboring a conservative soul all these years. If I'm right, though, the potential consequences are disquieting:

  1. The fundamental problems we face - entitlements, the tax code, public sector unions - will require an enormous amount of leadership to solve. A president without core convictions, a president who wants everyone to like him, won't get it done, and this may be our last chance to get these things right before we turn into Greece.
  2. As things get worse, "conservatism" will get blamed, and we won't have a chance to elect a real conservative for a long, long time. So long, in fact, that a socialism will be the permanent state of affairs.

Looks like Mitt has a lock on things, so here's hoping I'm wrong.