IS ROMNEY PRESIDENTIAL MATERIAL?
by Paul R. Hollrah, ©2011
(Nov. 18, 2011) — Since the publication of my recent column, titled “In the Footsteps of Lincoln,” I’ve received a number of responses from readers asking how I could so easily write off the candidacy of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. After all, he’s running for a second time, he’s been running non-stop since 2008, he’s been at or near the top of the polls for over a year, he has a great ground game, he has fairly broad appeal among the apolitical, and he has tons of money.
In response, I could simply quote former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who recently referred to Romney as “a well-oiled weather vane” and leave it at that. However, my readers deserve more than that cryptic response.
A great many Republicans fail to recognize two simple truths. First, they fail to understand or appreciate that, after Bush (41), Bush (43), and John McCain, conservative Republicans have had their fill of moderates and/or unreliable conservatives because they simply can’t be trusted. Also, they seem not to understand that the segment of the party amenable to moderate candidates is no more than 20 or 25 percent of Republican voters, perhaps less, while the segment of the party that prefers conservatives consists of at least 75 percent of the party faithful.
At the 1980 Republican convention in Detroit, Ronald Reagan’s vice presidential shortlist contained three names: former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and former Treasury Secretary Bill Simon. However, fearing that conservatives would capture both the presidency and the vice presidency, and unconvinced that Reagan was presidential caliber, Republican moderates launched an effort to force Reagan to accept former president Gerald R. Ford as his running mate. The move forced Reagan’s hand, and in the interest of maintaining party unity he selected George H.W. Bush, the primary opponent who angered Nancy Reagan by referring to the Reagan economic policies as “voodoo economics.”
I was at the convention as an aide to Bill Simon and I just happened to walk into the Joe Louis Arena shoulder-to-shoulder with Reagan as he rushed to the convention floor to announce his selection of George H.W. Bush… putting an abrupt end to speculation about a Ford candidacy.
I have often speculated about how different things might have been in the last five presidential elections if I had just stuck out my foot and put “The Gipper” flat on his face.
As it turned out, Bush served as vice president for eight years, giving him a leg up on the 1988 nomination. He was elected, but once in office he was totally incapable of dealing with Speaker Tip O’Neill, Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, and the rest of the Democratic leadership. After reaching a handshake agreement with the Democrats on tax increases and spending cuts Bush signed the tax increases into law, violating his “read my lips, no new taxes pledge,” and then sat back to await the promised spending cuts. Being naïve enough to think that it is possible to make a gentleman’s agreement with a Democrat, he’s probably still waiting. After a tepid four-year term he took the low road in his reelection campaign and turned the White House over to the likes of Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
In 2000, Republican moderates recruited George W. Bush as their candidate, and when Bush lost the New Hampshire primary to John McCain they initiated a decidedly un-Republican “scorched Earth” policy against McCain in the South Carolina and Michigan primaries. At Karl Rove’s direction, they did things to McCain that Republicans just don’t do to other Republicans.
Once in office, Bush exercised no control over big-spending Republicans in Congress led by Speaker Dennis Hastert, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, all of whom appeared intent upon making themselves indistinguishable from big-spending Democrats. The Bush spending record was such that, throughout the 2008 campaign and in the first three years of Barack Obama’s term, Democrats have been able to pin every major national problem on the Bush administration, leaving conservatives and Republicans with little defense.
And finally, in 2008, Republican moderates nominated Senator John McCain, a Vietnam War hero who also holds the distinction of being the worst candidate we could possibly have chosen to run against the likes of Barack Obama. Conservatives could never be sure from day to day whether McCain would come down on the liberal or the conservative side of an issue.
The point is, so long as conservatives have a viable alternative… Gingrich, Cain, Bachmann… what would conceivably cause them to support a Romney candidacy? Most TV talking heads appear mystified that Romney has been stuck at around 25 to 30 percent in the polls, but there’s no mystery to it. He’s stuck at that level simply because conservatives see him as a moderate and because he has too often taken positions that are anathema to conservatives.
For example, after a scathing Wall Street Journal attack on RomneyCare, Romney doubled down. He said, “I stand by my successful healthcare plan in Massachusetts, but ObamaCare is a disaster because it does all of the things that RomneyCare does, just on a national level. So, if I am elected president I will give waivers to states so they can repeat my mistakes if they want to, or, if they are smart, they will reject both my approach and Obama’s.”
If he had any real sense of how conservatives understand the respective roles of state and federal government he would have said, “Yes, the Massachusetts healthcare reform plan has not been the panacea we hoped it would be. But the states are the laboratories of social and economic policy in our federal system and it is the states that must take the lead in trying to solve problems such as the healthcare crisis. Obama and the Democrats in Congress don’t seem to understand that, when it comes to problems as great and as intractable as healthcare, the one-size-fits-all formula that they’re so fond of just won’t work. At least we tried. Now the Congress, the next president, and the other forty-nine states can learn from our experience in Massachusetts.”
But it was in New Hampshire, in announcing his candidacy for the 2012 GOP nomination, that Romney frittered away any chance he had of winning the 2012 nomination. Appearing before a crowd of New Hampshire supporters, he said, “I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world is getting warmer. I can’t prove that, but I believe, based on what I read, that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that. I don’t know how much our contribution is to that, because I know that there have been periods of greater heat and warmth in the past but I believe we contribute to that. And so I think it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you’re seeing.”
A more wishy-washy endorsement of global warming does not exist. If his purpose was to throw an ironclad conservative position “under the bus,” based on nothing but conjecture, why would he repeatedly insist that he didn’t know anything about the issue? One wonders who advises him on his public statements. As a former speech writer for a presidential candidate, I can’t help but wonder who is putting words into his mouth. No Republican who would publicly wrap his arms around the global warming hoax can ever hope to win the party’s nomination for President.
Now, in more recent days, Romney has added another nail to his coffin. In Ohio, where voters went to the polls on November 8 to repeal SB 5, a bill to limit public employee union collective bargaining rights, Romney again stuck his thumb squarely in the eye of conservatives. Being slow to endorse Governor John Kasich’s most important initiative, Romney did great damage, not only to himself, but to Governor Kasich as well.
Ohio Democratic Party Communications Director Seth Bringman has referred to SB 5 as the “quintessential” issue in the state. Pointing to the fact that SB 5 will have a major impact on the results of the 2012 General Election, he said, “I think (Romney’s) missing the point on how much this is going to matter in 2012. For someone who wants to win the state a year from now, to show such disregard for the most important issue facing Ohio right now is insulting.”
It should be clear to almost everyone by now, especially conservatives, that Romney is stuck at around 25% in the polls because he does not have the unwavering core of conservative beliefs that they require; he does not have an internal compass that directs him unfailingly toward the conservative course.
On January 20, 2013, the American people must inaugurate a president who doesn’t have to stop to think what the conservative approach to a problem might be. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his poem, Self-Reliance:
The little needle always knows the North,
The little bird remembereth his note,
And this wise Seer within me never errs.
I never taught it what it teaches me;
I only follow, when I act aright.
If our constitutional republic is to survive more than eighty years of liberal assault, we must have a conservative in the White House whose internal needle always points to the conservative view, one who knows instinctively what must be done. Is Romney such a man? If he is what Jon Huntsman referred to as “a well-oiled weather vane,” then he is not.