Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Apparently, it didn't matter ...

... that Mitt Romney won both New Hampshire and Florida with larger totals and larger percentages than the 2008 winner; or that he finished second in South Carolina, a state where he was expected to bomb, with more votes than 2008's winner; or that his win in Florida was not just in total number of votes, but also among nearly every demographic; or that he's been endorsed by Tea Party groups and activists in multiple states, as well as numerous conservative pundits and public servants.  Some people still are making the ludicrous claim that he lacks broad appeal.  There's a fallacy in thinking just because someone doesn't break 50% in a contest, especially if it's not a two-person race, it's evidence he's an unpopular figure.

... that Rick Santorum has stayed in the primary.  Despite Newt Gingrich's assertion that conservatives can't coalesce behind a "Not Romney" candidate if there are multiple alternatives, it didn't make a difference in either South Carolina (where Gingrich won) or in Florida (where both Gingrich's and Santorum's totals combined still fell a good 18,000 votes short of Romney's total).  There's a fallacy in thinking someone's failure to capture a particular group of voters, such as conservatives, is due to the presence of another candidate who also appeals to that group of voters; sometimes, it's because they're just not popular enough.

... that Romney "went negative".  Despite the fact that Gingrich had already gone negative in South Carolina and won as a result, quite a few people tried to "warn" Romney (through various media outlets) that he would lose Florida, or perhaps even the general election, if he went negative.  And yet, Romney won with an overwhelming margin.  Also, for months now, the knock against Romney was that he was perceived as not aggressive enough, that he wouldn't be able to stand up to Barack Obama.  But as soon as Romney fights Gingrich's fire with his own fire, his critics call it negative.  Even if there is a difference between aggressive and negative campaigning and even if Romney did cross that line, there's a fallacy in thinking this will somehow hurt him in the general election when it has served both him and Gingrich so well in the primaries.

... that Sarah Palin and Herman Cain both endorsed Gingrich.  Romney, as I mentioned before, had his share of conservative endorsements as well, though none are quite as ... recognizable as Palin is.  I, personally, agree that the process should continue.  The more victories he has over the rest of the field, the less room for doubt there will be in the minds of those who would dismiss his eventual nomination as unearned.  On the other hand, Palin's endorsement of Gingrich, however unofficial it may be, has done more harm to her than it has done good to him.  Romney did just as good among self-described conservatives in Florida as Gingrich did, and he certainly did better among women, two constituencies among whom Sarah Palin's endorsement should have helped Gingrich; but it didn't.  As Romney's loss in South Carolina demonstrated, there's a fallacy in thinking a well-known conservative female governor's endorsement will count for much among conservative female voters.

... that Gingrich won South Carolina.  In the ten days between that primary and Florida's, Gingrich's numbers in the latter state received the winner's bounce and then dropped back to their previous level.  As we've seen throughout this election season, every candidate has a floor of support, some lower than others.  A phantom swell of support has been granted to each candidate in turn:  Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum.  Ron Paul and Romney, perhaps by virtue of their previous primary runs, were immune to the phantom bounce, which seems to be the product of a group of voters who latched on to unfamiliar candidates for exactly the amount of time it took to get to know them and then abandoned them.  Romney and Paul both rose in the polls as well, but they never fell because their rises weren't artificial.  They both lost, technically, in Iowa and South Carolina, but they also improved on their previous runs (or at least didn't do any worse).  Gingrich has now risen and fallen twice.  I suspect his second rise, in South Carolina, came at Santorum's expense.  I also suspect he won't have another.  Since Romney's floor has always been higher than Gingrich's, "phantom voters" won't be enough in the future.  There's a fallacy in thinking the nebulous popularity of one candidate will overcome the groundwork (and hard work) of another; especially when that other has already soundly outperformed the one in three out of four contests.

We've seen a lot of conventional wisdom countered in this race.  The hyperinflated number of debates has been derided by nearly everyone, and yet it has helped even the score among the candidates, to an extent.  Endorsements, both positive and negative, have proven less important than in previous years, perhaps because voters insist on making up their own minds moreso than before.  And though the two frontrunners, Romney and Gingrich, have both been endowed by the Vocal Minority with unearned labels (Gingrich the Outsider and Romney the Liberal), the voters have largely ignored those narratives.  But one thing hasn't changed:  Organization matters.  Iowa showed us that relying on either retail, Internet, or organization produced approximately equal results among the top three finishers.  In later contests, the victory went to the master of all three.  It would be a fallacy to assume the same advantage won't hold in the upcoming contests; especially the caucuses.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Who do you trust?

Newt Gingrich has suggested that Mitt Romney is running a "fundamentally dishonest campaign".  That's a pretty spicy accusation, especially when people's trust in their leaders is at such a low point.  Gingrich prides himself on being a great speaker (no pun intended), so while "dishonest" may have been the intended operative word, his use of the word "fundamentally" is more interesting to me.  A fundamental is a basic part, an essential component, an underlying foundation of a larger entity.  In sports, the word "fundamentals" calls to mind the basic moves and strategies that support the overall gameplay.  In politics, having dishonesty as one of your fundamentals would seem to be quite a deficit.  Is it one of Romney's fundamentals?  Is it not one of Gingrich's?

You can't separate your campaign from your personal life.  As much as people say being a president isn't about your personal life but rather your policies, you cannot say that character doesn't matter.  We have several candidates for the presidency, each claiming that another is being dishonest.  We can't all meet these people individually, and it's becoming increasingly difficult to tell whether what we read about them online and see about them on TV is at all accurate.  So how do we know who is "fundamentally" trustworthy and who is "fundamentally" dishonest?

Well, we could go by the word of those who have met these candidates personally.  Endorsements, both positive and negative, have been pouring in for months now.  Many would like to ignore endorsements, or at least not lend them much weight.  On the other hand, endorsements do serve a purpose:  They are the word of those who, for the most part, have met these candidates, worked with them, and observed them in action without the filter of either the new or old media.  For the most part, Governor Romney has earned the lion's share of positive endorsements from Congressmen, Senators, state representatives and officials, judges, ambassadors, and even a fair number of prominent Tea Party activists.  Nearly every Republican governor in the country who has made an endorsement has endorsed Romney, including the governors of South Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, Idaho, Nebraska, and New Jersey.  This is important because governors have a unique perspective on the job and responsibility of "chief executive", and they are virtually united in declaring Mitt Romney the best man for that particular job.

By contrast, Newt Gingrich has earned the negative endorsement of many Congressmen who served with him in public office.  They have said he was too erratic and undisciplined to effectively lead as Speaker of the House, and that he would similarly be a disaster as President of the United States.  They further warn that he is very likely to lose this election, and indeed would damage the chances of conservative candidates running down-ticket from him.  Some have chosen to read these warnings, many from the same people who practically drove Gingrich from his Speakership over a decade ago, as the desperate acts of the "establishment" to keep Gingrich from threatening their "status".  On the hand, we've seen no similar backlash from any of Romney's former associates, either in business, government, or while running the Olympics.  No ethics or corruption charges and no attempts to oust him, despite the fact that the world of business is (arguably) far more corrupt and cutthroat than the United States Congress.

But, even if you choose to ignore all the positive endorsements Romney has received and all the negative endorsements Gingrich has received, it is still possible to gauge, reasonably, who is the more "fundamentally" dishonest candidate.  Christians of all stripes, be they Mormon, Catholic, or Evangelical, should recognize the admonition found in the Sermon on the Mount:  "Ye shall know them by their fruits ... A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit." (Matthew 7:16, 18 KJV)  What have the fruits of these men's lives been?

Mitt Romney has been accused of being a flip-flopper, someone who will change any position as long as it suits his ambitions.  My problem with that accusation has always been "Well, why hasn't he left the LDS church, then?"  As a Mormon myself, I can tell you that being a Latter-day Saint is not conducive to having a large ego (which, incidentally, may also explain why Romney isn't as "bombastic" as Gingrich on the campaign trail).  Certainly, Romney has had great success in his life, as have many other Mormons whom we can probably all name; but wouldn't he have had a much easier time if he'd just cut the "anchor" that is Mormonism?  He might have actually won Iowa four years ago and been president already.

Romney has been a man of constancy.  Certainly his politics have trended more rightward (trended, not flipped) as his experience has deepened, but so did Ronald Reagan's; and so did Newt Gingrich's, for that matter.  Romney has been a member of the same church his entire life, been married to the same woman his entire adult life, never once been accused by a former associate or subordinate, in either the public or private sector, of inappropriate behavior, and since his conversion to conservatism while Governor of Massachusetts has not ceased to help conservative candidates get elected to offices in every state and at every level of government.

Compare that to Newt Gingrich who has been divorced twice because of adultery, changed religions, been rejected by his own caucus after only two terms as Speaker (and is still rejected by them), and recently claimed, rather bizarrely, that his transgressions are a strength because it means he's more in touch with normal people.  Frankly, Mr. Speaker, I don't want a "normal" person as president; I want an exceptional one.  While I'm in no position to cast any stones, I chose to place my trust in the good tree; because it has brought forth good fruit.

Monday, January 9, 2012

2012 Republican Nomination: Final Predictions (and Analysis)

The voting has begun.  The Iowa Caucuses were less than a week ago, the New Hampshire primary is this week, and there are three more major nominating events in the next month (as well as four more debates).  It seems a little early to be making "final predictions", but I think most people get the sense there's not much left to predict.  We know who the winner will be; all that's left is the spread.  The 2012 Republican primary race has been, to different people, the most satisfying, the most frustrating, and the most disappointing primary season in history, and all because of one man:  Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.  Who says he can't excite people?

I have some predictions about the next couple of months leading up to Super Tuesday on March 6th.  First, Romney will win every single primary and caucus by virtue of the strength of his campaign organization, contributions, and general candidacy for the presidency.  He won't run unopposed, of course, and he shouldn't.  No candidate should win the nomination without proving that he or she has earned it.  The second prediction deals with which of his opponents will drop out of the race and when.  I suppose I could also predict which of them will ultimately endorse Romney (it will not be all of them) and who, if any of them, Romney would choose for his running mate.  The first, I don't even want to think about, because it pains me to think of who would be so petty as to not stand behind Romney at a time when Republicans need to unite like never before.  The second, I'll save for when Mitt reaches 1,150 delegates.

Three candidates won't drop out until after (Mitt has won) the South Carolina and Florida primaries:  former Ambassador Jon Huntsman, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Texas Governor Rick Perry.  Each fancies himself to be more qualified and more appealing than our man Mitt, and each knows they have a chance if they can beat him just once before Super Tuesday.  SC, Florida, and the Nevada Caucuses are the biggest contests left, but Nevada is Romney's, as it was the last time.  SC is a conservative stronghold, but it went for Senator John McCain, a moderate, in 2008, so anything is possible.  Florida is a big prize, so it would be almost as important to the candidates (especially with its higher delegate count).  These three candidates are hanging by the thinnest of threads, which is why they need Florida or SC as a lifeline.  If they fail, though, then they'll all leave the race and support either Mitt or one of the other two candidates; or no one.

The other two, former Senator Rick Santorum and Congressman Ron Paul, will stick around even if they lose in Florida and SC, and even Nevada.  Santorum won Iowa (in some people's eyes), and he has a shot at the top three in SC and even NH.  That kind of placement will make him the darling of the Anyone But Romney crowd, which will not let him drop out until at least Super Tuesday.  They'll support him with money and organization, as much of it as they can.  Ron Paul, similarly, will hang on, even if his only propellant is the strength of his following.  But the RP brigade and the ABR crowd have more motivation than just their devotion, real or imagined, to their candidates and to defeating Romney.  As unrealistic as it sounds, they're striving to preserve the integrity of the primary process.

No one, I repeat, no one, other than a sitting president, has gone through the primary process as smoothly as Romney is set to go through in the coming weeks and months.  If he is simply given the nomination by virtue of only having weak opponents, then everyone will question his strength as a candidate.  Winning by default isn't the same as rising to the top.  In 2008, Romney lost in a divided field; now, he has an opportunity to win in one, but only if that field is strong enough to actually challenge him.  The GOP, gathered so famously by Ronald Reagan into a coalition of foreign policy, economic and social conservatives, has been fracturing into its component parts ever since.  That has allowed for such diverse Republican presidents and nominees as George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and John McCain.  Now, we have another struggle within the party; but unlike before, we have a chance to choose a candidate who appeals to each wing of the GOP.  Romney has striven to prove that he is sufficiently conservative in each area; foreign policy, economic, and social.

For the most part, he's succeeded.  His record of fiscal discipline hardly needs to be repeated, but I'll do it anyway.  In brief, he turned a multi-billion-dollar deficit in Massachusetts into a billion-dollar surplus in four years, balanced the budget multiple times, cut spending, avoided raising taxes even once, and did it all with a hostile state legislature.  As CEO of the 2002 Winter Olympics, he similarly turned a scandal-ridden enterprise into an unqualified success.  Both times, he refused to take more than a ceremonial salary.  His business record requires much more scrutiny than I can provide here, but no one can deny that he knows how to make cuts; cuts which the federal government clearly needs if it's going to regain a sound financial footing.

His foreign policy credentials are a little dicier.  You could make the argument there's not much there on which to run; however, that argument would need a little scrutiny, itself.  He may not have served in the military or as an ambassador, but he has experience dealing with the rest of the world, both as a businessman and as CEO of the Olympics.  Even his time as governor gave him exposure on the world stage.  He knows several foreign heads of state personally, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  And he gave a major foreign policy speech in South Carolina last October that established him as head and shoulders above most of the field in preparing for the general election in this area.  He'll need it to prove he's ready to be Commander-in-Chief.

As for social issues, voters need to decide for themselves whether or not Romney's conversion from personally pro-life and publicly pro-choice to fully pro-life is genuine, or whether or not his pledge to protect gay rights in 1994 was ever meant to include the right to marry; but a letter from several prominent conservative groups in Massachusetts affirm that he did fully support pro-life and pro-family causes as governor.  Also, five former ambassadors to the Vatican have chosen to endorse Romney on the strength of his social conservatism, despite the fact that he is a Mormon and they had their choice of two prominent Catholic candidates.  While he may not be as conservative in each area as some may like, and while he may be more conservative in each area than others may like, he certainly embodies "all three legs of the conservative stool", as Rush Limbaugh said (once upon a time).
Ron Paul's followers are fervent; the ABR's are angry; and the Establishment, as apparent to anyone paying attention, has been dithering for months now.  Romney has his own following, one that is arguably stronger than anyone else's.  Fully 25% of the GOP has resisted abandoning him in favor of the successive chain of "Flavor of the Month" candidates.  Ron Paul's followers have similarly stood by his side, but their numbers are lower than Romney's followers' numbers; every other candidate's base is even smaller.  We in Romney's base have sat patiently and waited for everyone else to come around to certain facts:  One, that no one else has the appeal within the GOP that Romney does, as evidenced by the fact that everyone whose numbers have risen above his have also fallen.  Two, no one else campaigns as well as Romney does, again, as evidenced by everyone's failure to rise above him and stay there.  And three, he's not as hated by Republicans as the vocal minority makes it sound.  His favorability ratings are currently at just under 70%, and he's leading in every single demographic except "very conservative"; and even among those voters, he's not doing bad at all.  So while he may not be every Republicans' first choice for the presidency, that's certainly not evidence they'd refuse to vote for him if he gets the nomination.
All he needs now is to convincingly defeat a strong opponent or two along the way to the nomination to prove his victories aren't empty ones and that he's ready for the general election.  It's unfortunate that certain conservatives have chosen themselves as the opponents whom he needs to defeat, both officially and unofficially, but at least no one will be able to say it was given to him (not that they won't say it, anyway).

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Romney wins Iowa. Here's why it matters

In 2008, a Republican candidate was leading in the polls in both the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary.  But, after being soundly beaten in Iowa, his numbers dipped in NH, allowing another candidate to defeat him there.  A month later, still fighting both opponents through Super Tuesday, he realized the path to the nomination, while not an impossible one, could provoke a sort of civil war within the Republican Party.  Rather than be the man responsible for a weakened candidate going into the general election that year, he suspended his campaign and threw his full-throated support behind the eventual nominee.  It was a fairly stunning act of humility, especially since it came with no discernible upside.  Until now, that is.

Mitt Romney just won the Iowa Caucuses.  His total is nearly identical to what it was in 2008 (30,021 votes then, 30,015 now).  I don't think we can know how much of that is due to his run four years ago, though I have no doubt most of his detractors will claim this is evidence he has an unbreakable ceiling of support.  On the other hand, given that he has barely campaigned in Iowa this year and only recently spent any money, compared to $10 million spent from his campaign last time and a nigh-constant presence then, it could be said that is an unbreakable floor, not a ceiling.  And, let's not forget, it is still a win.

Of course, it was a narrow win.  The second-place finisher in Iowa was former Senator Rick Santorum, who came in only eight votes shy of Romney's total.  Much will be made of this, by both Santorum's campaign and media outlets across the country and beyond; but I think we all know better.  As I said, Romney hardly campaigned in Iowa this time.  Santorum, on the other hand, has done nothing but campaign in Iowa.  You'd think he lived there these last six months, and indeed he did.  He's the only candidate to visit each of Iowa's 99 precincts.  He's held multiple events almost every day since the summer.  He had the personal endorsement of Bob Vander Plaats, the influential head of the Family Leader group.  While Romney built operations and campaign infrastructure in dozens of other states across the country, Santorum neglected every state but Iowa, which has cost him the opportunity to even compete in some later states.

And yet, despite that focus, it has only been in the last week, literally, that his numbers began to swell.  While some will claim that his devotion to Iowa is what earned him a virtual tie with the national frontrunner, his success came only at the expense of the rest of the crowd.  Rick Santorum is merely the last in a very long line of people who stood as the "Anti-Romney" in Iowa.  The fact that he was the last, after everyone else, despite his grueling efforts in the state, says as much about how little those voters wanted him to win as it does about how little they wanted Romney to win.

And even if his arduous trek across Iowa is what brought him so very close to victory, it is not a feat he can recreate in any other state; certainly not in every other state.  The old adage "work smarter, not harder" comes easily to mind in this situation.  Santorum's momentum may net him another second-place finish in a later state; but if he couldn't defeat Romney in Iowa, then he'll never defeat him anywhere else.

So, the nomination is Romney's.  That's one reason his victory tonight matters.  There's another reason, though.  History will be made in one week.  For the first time in the modern era, a nonincumbent Republican will win both the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary.  Romney has an overwhelming lead there over the entire field, so much so that most of the other candidates have already decided to skip NH.  That doesn't make his impending victory there any less significant.  Some winners in Iowa have failed to become the nominee, as have some winners in NH; but never has the Republican nominee been someone who hasn't won in at least one of those states.  And now, we'll have a candidate win both.

Heck, we could even have a candidate win every primary and caucus this year, the first nonincumbent candidate of either party to win every nominating contest.  People have been talking for over a year now about how the Tea Party and the Establishment wings of the Republican Party could split the GOP right down the middle, especially over who should be the nominee.  Well, not only does Romney already have the backing of several prominent Tea Partiers like Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Christine O'Donnell of Delaware, but he also received the endorsement of the Independence Hall Tea Party PAC, which represents Tea Parties in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  And, if Romney does manage to win every primary and caucus this year, how could anyone not say the GOP is unified behind one candidate?  As in 2008, Romney is working to unite the GOP behind a candidate who can win.  The only difference is, he gets to be that candidate this year.

Congratulations, Mitt Romney!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Grow Up: Endorsement Edition

Mitt Romney's impressive list of endorsements has been growing steadily since before he even announced he was running for president.  Notable Romney backers include Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, former Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, and well-known conservative firebrand Ann Coulter.  The list also includes approximately ten times as many current and former governors, senators, Congressmen, and state legislators as all the other candidates combined.  The sheer number of endorsements he's received is especially telling when you consider that many of his Congressional endorsements come from former colleagues of his co-frontrunner, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

These endorsements, however, have all been shrugged off or explained away by people who can rationalize "the establishment" coalescing around "the establishment candidate".  Not that I have ever accepted the label of "establishment candidate" applying to Romney (or not applying to Gingrich), but it's easy to dismiss endorsements from people whose names you've likely never heard, or publications (like mine) that you've probably never read more than a few times.  In the case of endorsements from the likes of Christie, Pawlenty, and Coulter, there are myriad rationalizations to be made.  "Christie's not really as conservative as we first thought."  "Pawlenty just wants to be his vice president."  "Ann's obviously lost her mind."  And, of course, the label RINO (Republican In Name Only) gets thrown around quite liberally (pun intended?).

However, the trend of conservative politicians, pundits, publications, and polls towards the Romney camp just keeps climbing.  It saw four major endorsements just this last week.  The first came from Christine O'Donnell, former Senate candidate from Delaware.  O'Donnell's run for the Senate epitomized the "Tea Party vs. Establishment" fight in 2010 in a way that almost no other election story that year did.  She defeated a candidate handpicked by the Republican Party to run and who was seen as an easy path not only to victory but to returning control of the Senate to Republicans.  Primary voters in Delaware, however, couldn't care less about the national agenda and chose the candidate they wanted.  Conservatives all across the country rallied to O'Donnell's candidacy, flooding her campaign coffers with money and bringing her longshot bid to the attention of the whole nation.

So you can imagine, when she endorsed Mitt Romney this last week, it caused no small amount of shock on the part of Tea Partiers everywhere.  Publications and pundits have been downplaying the importance of the endorsement, with some going so far as to express surprise that the Romney campaign would enthusiastically embrace and promote it.  However, that strikes me as a bit disingenuous.  O'Donnell had quite a brand about her, after all.  No matter what level of respect she commanded from either her supporters or detractors, she was always seen as a "true conservative hero".  For her to now endorse a man who is viewed by many as the very type of politician against whom she ran in 2010 is seen by some as a betrayal of that brand.  However, as she points out in her endorsement, Romney was one of the first to call and congratulate her on winning the nomination in Delaware, and he immediately donated to her campaign.  They are, perhaps, a bit of an odd couple, but they truly believe in each other.  While O'Donnell may have lost some supporters after this, it only strengthens my own already high opinion of her.

Next came the Washington Examiner, seen by many as the definitive conservative alternative to the Washington Post (sorry, Washington Times), featuring writers such as Michael Barone, Philip Klein and Byron York.  It is owned by the same parent company that owns the Weekly Standard, one of the more reliably conservative magazines in the U.S.  Declaring Romney to be the GOP's best choice and "the only Republican who can beat Obama" predictably brought accusations from readers that they had "sold out to establishment elitists", declarations of disappointment, and vows to never read the Examiner again.  I've noted before that people should beware of assuming the most "vocal" responses are indicative of general sentiment, so it's easy for me to imagine the Examiner's endorsement inspired more thoughtful reconsideration of Romney among conservatives than it did anger amongst those who now consider the Examiner to be "dead" to them.  However, it's still disconcerting when a presumably long-term reader of a publication would abandon it over an endorsement like this.  We're all too willing to live in echo chambers, apparently.

The third endorsement of note came from Nikki Haley, Governor of South Carolina.  Conservatives rallied around her as the first woman governor of SC, the current youngest governor in America, and the second Indian-American to become a governor.  Symbolically, at least, she's one of the most inspiring figures in the Republican Party, even if her single year in office has already hit some bumps in the road (what governor hasn't in his or her first year?).  She's been staunchly and consistently pro-life and anti-tax throughout her time as a legislator in SC and as governor, and, until she endorsed Mitt Romney for president this week, was seen as firmly in the Tea Party.  "Why, Nikki?" one outraged former supporter demanded. "Why would you compromise your principles?"  I doubt this person ever honestly considered that Romney actually shares Haley's principles; if she had, then maybe she'd realize it doesn't take a compromise.

Attempts to marginalize Gov. Haley's endorsement have been almost as ridiculous as the attempts to smear her during her own primary battles were.  Does anyone doubt the governor of South Carolina can influence who does well in South Carolina's primary next month?  But the attempts to "explain" her endorsement have been even worse.  Some say she's returning the favor, since Romney endorsed her campaign last year.  Some speculate that she wants a spot on the ticket with him.  Both are direct attacks on Haley's integrity.  After all, not everyone whom Romney endorsed in 2010, 2009, or 2008 is behind him now, just like not everyone who is behind him now can expect a "job" in his White House.  The more people accuse conservatives like Gov. Haley of playing "quid pro quo" after having previously supported them, the more they make themselves look like fools.

Finally, the Des Moines Register Editorial Board issued its endorsement on Saturday after interviewing every candidate participating in the Iowa Caucuses.  This could be the most crucial endorsement Romney has received, given the influence the DMR has in Iowa.  Listed from the beginning of the article are three elements Romney himself looks for in a leader and the board notes are absent, in whole or in part, from the other possible nominees:  Sobriety, Wisdom, and Judgment.  It noted the evolution of Romney over the years from an independent to a moderate Republican to a conservative.  Some say it has been a "convenient" conversion for him, but DMR responds, "It should be possible for a politician to say, 'I was wrong, and I have changed my mind.'"

Another excellent, well-reasoned, considerate endorsement, right on the heels of several other endorsements from publications and individuals that examine Romney on his merits and not on how he makes them "feel". And, predictably, on the heels of the endorsement came the wailing and nashing of teeth by those who "feel" the most strongly about the endorsement. To everyone who calls himself or herself a conservative, it's been great seeing your passion and desire for purity on display these last few months and even years; but it's time to use your heads.

Romney is the best candidate; not the best to win the nomination or to beat President Obama in the general, but the best to actually be president. If we had nominated him four years ago, then we can be certain of three things: One, unemployment would be below five percent right now (I list it first because it's the most important). Two, there would be no ObamaCare, either in its current form or in RomneyCare-gone-national form, because Mitt was on record even back in 2007 as saying he wouldn't impose a mandate at a national level (and he was saying this at a time when conservatives still thought the individual mandate was a good idea). And three, there would have been no government takeover of Detroit (read his "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" article in the New York Times from Dec. of '08).  An excellent record of job creation and balanced budgets throughout his professional adult life, no government takeover of healthcare, and no bailouts of private industry. What else could Tea Partiers ask for in their nominee? I've been to plenty of rallies in the years since they began holding them, and the answer is "nothing".

I'm not trying to short-circuit the primary process.  I believe everyone should vote their conscience, and I certainly don't believe in dictating other people's choices for them.  I do, however, believe in endorsements.  When the Washington Examiner, Nikki Haley, Christine O'Donnell, Chris Christie, the Des Moines Register, Tim Pawlenty, Ann Coulter, and literally hundreds of other serious lawmakers, executives, pundits and publications start lining up behind Romney, representing a fair cross-section of both long-term supporters and recent converts to his candidacy, it's time to stop declaring anyone who stands with Mitt a RINO or a sellout.  It's time to stop declaring that you've been "betrayed" and that your heroes are "going along to get along".  It's time to face the possibility that you yourself may have been wrong this entire time.  It's time, basically, to grow up.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

McCain Redux?

It's a myth that Senator John McCain lost in 2008 because conservatives didn't rally around him.  As Michael Medved pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, McCain actually gained more conservative votes than George W. Bush did against John Kerry, and even more than Ronald Reagan did against Jimmy Carter.  It was among independents that McCain lost.

Still, the myth perpetuates, mostly because people want to believe it.  Conservatives, like myself, want conservatism to "win".  We believe in the cause and in the principles, and when it comes to the presidency, we want the best, most conservative president we can get.  The difference between myself and most conservatives is I believe Mitt Romney is that man and others believe he's the McCain of myth; to wit, a candidate too moderate to draw enough conservative votes to win.  What they should worry about is nominating the McCain of reality, i.e. someone who will lose independent voters.  As in 2008, it seems they are about to do just that.

There are quite a few similarities between this election and the last one.  The volatility of the polls is one, of course.  Some of the same players are around, particularly Romney and Ron Paul.  And there's even a Republican lawmaker from the 80's and 90's with a history of compromising with Democrats, committing "heresy" on issues like immigration and education reform, having multiple wives, and narrowly avoiding being ejected from Congress for ethics violations.  In 2008, it was John McCain; now, it's former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich has far more in common with McCain than Romney does.  Neither of them has ever run a business or a state.  Their accomplishments have all been legislative, and usually the result of compromising with Democrats on important issues.  McCain compromised with Sen. Russ Feingold on campaign finance reform, with Sen. Joe Lieberman on cap-and-trade, and with Sen. Ted Kennedy on immigration reform.  Not only has Gingrich sparked controversy by being (seemingly?) willing to compromise on each of those issues himself, but he also reached several compromises with President Bill Clinton that, while they averted a prolonged government shutdown and ultimately led to a balanced budget, would seem to be inconsistent with some of the compromises he's urged lawmakers today to not make.  Granted, Romney made a few compromises while governor of Massachusetts, but that was with a veto-proof Democratic majority in the legislature.  He still managed to govern more conservatively than even the Republican governors who came before him in office.

Both McCain and Gingrich have seen their political careers suffer near-misses on ethics charges.  With McCain, it was the Keating Five scandal.  Though he was never charged, he was criticized by his colleagues for using "poor judgment" in the affair.  For Gingrich, it was 84 ethics scandals, most of which didn't receive a full hearing, but which did result in an official sanction and his own admittance that he had acted inappropriately.  His Speakership was in jeopardy afterwards, and especially following his failed attempt to impeach President Clinton.  Eventually, he resigned, the first Speaker to do so under such circumstances.

Both McCain and Gingrich were considered likely candidates for the nomination until their campaigns imploded over the summers before the primaries officially began.  Both implosions were due to their "heresies" of which both had to publicly repent before voters would start leaning towards them again.  For McCain, it was the above-mentioned immigration reform bill that ultimately failed.  After it did, he "flip-flopped" and said that he "now knew" that any reform must begin with securing the border.  For Gingrich, it was his oft-cited flip-flop on Congressman Paul Ryan's Medicare reform proposals that Gingrich once termed "rightwing social engineering", but now claims to support (kind of).  They both had skeleton campaigns after the summer and have both had to claw their ways back to the top, with debates and strong numbers in New Hampshire being central to the health of their candidacies.

The other thing both needed to survive is for the electorate to reject Romney's candidacy.  There was good reason to believe it would in '08, given that the idea was to elect someone who could win the Iraq War and Romney had no military record at all.  This year, though, the hope is that Romney will not be seen as conservative enough for Tea Party voters.  Bizarrely, given Gingrich's history, he's seen as less of a McCain than Romney is, despite the fact that Romney has never been sanctioned or even reprimanded by Congress, never been divorced, never been part of the establishment (despite all narratives to the contrary), and despite his exceedingly impressive executive experience.

One more thing Gingrich shares in common with McCain:  he'll have a much harder time wooing the center than Romney would.  In '08, the center could have gone either way; and it did.  Virtually en masse, they liked Barack Obama better than McCain.  They liked how he presented himself in the debates, his promises of "hope and change", how he handled the economic crisis, and, above all, how he promised to not be the second coming of George W. Bush.  This year, independents know better, and they're looking for someone who can undo the mess Obama has made.  Romney can do just that, and people know it.  They know no such thing about Gingrich, and what they do know of him, they don't seem to like very much.  Former Sen. John Danforth of Missouri wrote an excellent summation of why he and other center-right voters should elect Romney president.  You'll not find that kind of moderate support for Gingrich any more; just like you didn't see it for John McCain.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Grow Up (Part Two)

Almost two months later, it continues.  Not like I really expected it to stop, but I'd hoped it wouldn't become quite this ridiculous.

The rise and fall of Rick Perry has been well-documented (and thoroughly reinforced) in the weeks since I first suggested conservatives needed to stop leaping onto the backs of whatever candidate they felt was both more conservative than Mitt Romney and a better campaigner and saying "please carry us all the way through 2012".  Shortly after Perry crashed and burned (and repeated the steps over and over), it was time for "Hermentum".  Herman Cain, despite having admitted in the very first Republican debate of this election cycle that he knew nothing about foreign policy (and oddly considered that a strength), skyrocketed to about forty percent in some national polls.  But his fall, while not quite as spectacular as Perry's, was far more predictable.  After a lackluster performance in last week's debate on foreign policy, Cain gave an interview  in which his lack of chops were embarrassingly on display.  This, even more than his botched handling of the sexual misconduct allegations, demonstrates that he just doesn't know what he's doing.

Next, mystifyingly, came Newt Gingrich.  I knew, without a doubt in my mind, that Newt wouldn't be the next "anti-Romney".  How did I "know" this?  Because last spring (not during the last election cycle or during the last Democratic president, but last spring), the former Speaker of the House of Representatives was on record saying that he supported a "variation" on the individual mandate in Obamacare on the federal level.  Romney has been castigated just for implementing it on a state level, even though Romney had said as far back as 2007 that he wouldn't take his Massachusetts plan national.  Even before Newt sat on the couch with Nancy Pelosi, Romney had refused to adopt "cap-n-trade" policies in Massachusetts, despite some knee-jerk charges to the contrary.  As with Perry, Romney is actually to the right of Gingrich on a number of issues that "grassroots conservatives" claim are important.  It's clear who the better campaigner is, given that Romney has organizations, endorsements, and actual campaign cash in every early state and most later ones, while Gingrich, supposedly a genius, couldn't keep his own campaign from imploding over the summer.  And social conservatives should certainly be able to compare Romney's 42-year marriage to Gingrich's three marriages and come away with no confusion about who's the more consistent candidate.

And yet, Gingrich is now either tied or passing Romney in recent national polls?

Say it with me, now:  it's time to grow up, conservatives.

What could the problem with Romney possibly be?  It's not his "flip-flopping".  Gingrich, Perry, and even Cain have all flip-flopped on important issues since the start of this election season, and they've all taken their turn as the Romney alternative.  It's not that Romney is less capable or qualified than the others; polls consistently show that voters believe he's both the most capable and the most qualified.  It's certainly not that they just like the other candidates better.  These are the same candidates who have always been there, just like Romney has always been there, and yet they've all seen their numbers go up and then right back down (and believe me, Gingrich's numbers will go right back down).

One entertaining theory is that voters don't like the fact that Romney doesn't attack the president enough.  That's a pretty stupid theory, which is why I won't bother to link back to the full analysis.  Romney's campaign, practically since day one, has been focused entirely on attacking the president and his policies, while everyone else has been attacking each other.  Mitt's taken a few shots at opponents in debates, as well, and even in a campaign ad or two, but his overwhelming focus has been on the president.  I'm going to post just a few of my favorite Romney campaign videos below, and you tell me if you think Romney's been taking it easy on President Obama (the rest can be found on Romney's campaign site):

Here's my theory.  It's not that Romney won't or can't attack Obama, or that there's no real difference between them.  I think enough people out there are smart enough to realize that Romney could actually defeat Obama and be a substantial improvement over him.  Romney knows how to put people back to work; he did it in the Olympics, he did it in Massachusetts, and he did it with hundreds of companies across the country.  If you've ever eaten at Domino's, slept on a Sealy Mattress, or shopped at Staples, then you have Romney to thank for that.  And it's certainly not the fact that he's a Mormon; there are more anti-Mormons on the Left than there are on the Right.

No, the real issue is Mitt's "inevitability".  Voters hate not having a choice.  They hate not being allowed to make up their own minds.  They hate it when someone else, anyone else, tries to take that choice, that decision, out of their hands.  And so, unfairly or not, they hate Romney for being the "inevitable" candidate.  "He's next in line".  Yeah, so is Ron Paul; in fact, since Ron Paul is on his third run, he's actually more "next in line" than Mitt is.  "He's the establishment candidate".  What "establishment"?  No one in the Republican leadership, either in Congress or at the RNC, has endorsed him; in fact, they've practically begged other candidates to run against him.  "He's too slick".  Excuse me?  I thought the point was to nominate someone who can win.  You want slick over rough.  Or have Rick Perry's debate performances taught you nothing?

I could give a fig about why you say you won't vote for Romney.  Everything you can say about him can be said about all the other candidates running.  The only difference is Mitt Romney was out there getting conservatives elected to public office in every state and at every level of government for three whole years following the 2008 elections while the other candidates, especially Newt Gingrich, were busy focusing on their careers in either politics or television (or both).  Romney has done more for conservatism in this country in the last few years than any other candidate or faux candidate, save possibly Sarah Palin only.  It's time to recognize that fact.  If Mitt Romney wins the nomination, then it won't be because he bought it or had it given to him; he will have earned it.