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.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Think about ... France

It was the moment in last night's GOP debate that many people thought was Texas Governor Rick Perry at his weirdest.  The topic was Yucca Mountain in Nevada, both a local and a national issue.  In the midst of a bloody battle (metaphorically speaking) between Perry, Mitt Romney, and occasionally Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, there was a rare detente between Perry and Romney (that isn't the "weird" part).  It actually started when Romney had a detente moment with Ron Paul on the issue, which seemed to then lead directly into Perry agreeing with the both of them.

A little background, for those who don't know.  The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository was supposed to be an environmentally safe place to dump nuclear waste, as opposed to, say, the ocean, or a populated area.  But there's been so much pushback from Nevadans and environmentalists that the whole project has pretty much been abandoned entirely.  At the debate last night, the candidates were asked about their views on the controversy.  Ron Paul, no stranger to controversy, sees it primarily as a states' rights issue.  "What right," he asks, "does 49 states have ... to say 'we're gonna put our garbage in your state'?"  Romney agreed, and even took it a bit further by proposing, in situations like these, that all states might make bids and offers to take the waste in return for suitable "compensation" from the companies that produce the waste; a market-driven solution to the problem, in other words.

Rick Perry was next, and he agreed with both Paul and Romney.  But, whether he didn't feel he could just say "I agree with both of them" without offering something new, or the wheels in his head started turning just a little faster than his lips could follow, his answer was ... more than a little mystifying, to put it politely.  He didn't have much time to speak, and he knew it, so it's possible the twists and turns in his answer were probably just efforts to inject as much information into the answer as possible.  But then, the Shatneresque pauses ate up more time from his answer than his near-constant interruptions earlier in the evening took from some of Romney's answers.

Watching the answer again, though, you can tell, whatever else may be going on in his head, confusion isn't part of it.  He knows what he's talking about.  It's why, in the previous debate, he tried to pivot everything to energy.  It's why his jobs bill focuses so much on the issue.  Energy equals Texas.  Perry's had certain advantages that have helped him create jobs over the last decade, what Romney once described as "four aces":  conservative legislature, conservative courts, no income tax, and conservative labor laws.  Throw in the wild card:  "a lot of oil".  While Perry hasn't been able to convince others that he could bring the four aces to the rest of the country, he has pointed out, correctly, that energy is a card that nearly the whole country has been dealt.

Perry just had a little trouble articulating it during the debate.  I think it was one of those "unscripted moments".  He went off-script a little bit, which usually involves him saying something that makes me nostalgic for George W. Bush.  This time, though, I think it was due to his overenthusiasm for the topic.  I've seen it before in presidential debates.  In 2007, both Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin and Tom Tancredo of Colorado exhibited similar behavior, though perhaps a bit more practiced than Perry's.  The difference?  They knew they were single-issue candidates; Perry doesn't.  I don't think his problem is a lack of polish or focus, but rather that he's been pulled off what his focus should be:  energy.  I think Rick Perry is a single-issue candidate.

I've heard it said that Perry could be a good Energy Secretary.  Maybe that's true, but I tend to dismiss talk like that after watching the debates, for two reasons:  one, it becomes increasingly evident through the debates that Romney will be the nominee; and two, the antipathy between Romney and Perry would make seeing them working together something to which you could probably sell tickets.  This is a feud that rivals the Romney-Huckabee dust-up of '08.  But watch the video below and see the anger and enmity clearly evident at the beginning of the clip just melt from Perry's face at thoughts of ... France.  They might just be able (and willing) to put hard feelings aside to work together on this.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Conservatives, it's time to grow up

I understand there's no need to make a final decision now regarding who to nominate as the Republican candidate for president.  I understand that political fortunes in a presidential race can change faster and more unpredictably than the weather in hurricane season.  And believe me, I know where Rudy Giuliani was in the polls this time four years ago.

But this is not the same race it was four years ago; and Mitt Romney is not Rudy Giuliani.  Nor is he John McCain, but we'll get to that a little later.

Let's talk for a little bit about the last presidential campaign.  Nobody knew what kind of dynamics would decide the final election.  Everyone thought the biggest issue/factor would be the Iraq War; no one thought it would be the economy.  Barack Obama and John McCain became the eventual nominees mostly on the strength of their respective stances on the war.  Obama had "always" opposed it, and therefore was able to hammer Hillary Clinton on her vote authorizing it.  McCain, whose campaign was on life support after his immigration reform compromise with Senator Ted Kennedy fell through, was able to work his way back to the top because of his strong support for the Surge in Iraq (also based on the strength of his military background versus Romney's lack of background).  The defining issue (or so everyone thought) was the war, and the parties nominated the people who best turned that issue to their advantage during the campaign.  Most other factors were (mostly) incidental.

Now, that may sound like an oversimplification, but it is, nevertheless, the basis on which the nominees were chosen by the electorate.  McCain, Giuliani, Romney, and Mike Huckabee all tried to portray themselves as strongest on the issue of the War on Terror and national security.  But while Giuliani was a national security hero, he was also clearly the most liberal of all the candidates (and the worst campaigner by far).  So, for voters for whom the most authentic voice was most important but who didn't want to be caught voting with their heads instead of their hearts, McCain's lifetime of heroism was just enough cover to play tiebreaker between him and the man who once danced onstage in fishnets.  As for Romney and Huckabee, they simply couldn't compete with a genuine war hero.

Did I just oversimplify things even further?  Maybe.  Let's look at the overriding issue in this election season, though:  the economy.  Mitt Romney is the obvious choice.  It's so obvious, they can see his nomination coming on the other side of the galaxy.  But conservatives' hearts just aren't in it.  I've never accepted the label of "establishment candidate" for Romney, mostly because the establishment seems almost desperate to nominate someone else; anyone else.  They knew they couldn't nominate any of the lower-tiered candidates, such as Rick "I Lost In My Own State" Santorum or Ron "The Real Reason Al Qaeda Attacked Us Is ..." Paul.  They've known for years that the next election would be about the economy, and that, if Romney ran, he would be the blindingly obvious choice.

But Romney just isn't ... "exciting" enough.  So they've hoped, and they've searched, and they've waited, and they've pleaded.  "Mike Huckabee, you were governor for a long time, and you're popular with evangelicals, so why don't you run?  Donald Trump, you're an uber-billionaire, and everyone knows your name, so why don't you run?  Chris Christie, look at all the great work you've done, and with a Democratic legislature no less, so why don't you run?  Mitch Daniels?  Haley Barbour?  Paul Ryan?"  Any fiscal conservative they could find who also had a hint of populist appeal, they tried to get in the race.  But none of them have; and none of them will.  Why not?

Perhaps it's because they fear the fate of Tim Pawlenty.  Pawlenty certainly looked good in theory.  He did a good job as governor, he'd been floated as a running mate for John McCain, and he didn't have any of that pesky "Romney" baggage.  However, when he entered the field, he soon wilted when faced with the daunting task of running against not only the president, but members of his own party as well.  Perhaps he'd have done better if he'd only had to face Barack Obama, but he first needed to squeek past Michele Bachmann and, of course, Mitt Romney.  He couldn't do either.  He made a very wise decision when he stopped campaigning and chose not to wait to endorse the man he knew could best lead the country during this time.

Of course, there's a worse fate than that of Pawlenty's:  the fate of Rick Perry.  Perry is another candidate who looked great on paper.  He's the longest-serving governor in history, his state of Texas continues to create jobs while other states languish, and his conservatism has never been questioned.  Well ... had never been questioned.  You see, when you're the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, you soon find that you're not nearly as conservative as you thought you were.  The only way to avoid being made to look like a fool is to never try to pretend that you were conservative in the first place.

That's a lesson Romney learned in the last election, and it's a lesson that Donald "I Sued To Have A Woman Thrown Out Of Her House So I Could Build A Limo Parking Garage" Trump would quickly learn in this one, were he to run.  Chris "Plain Talking" Christie wouldn't need to learn it, of course, but his legions of fans certainly would, as would fans of Mitch Daniels, John Thune, Marco Rubio, and even Allen West.  I've been on conservative forums all across the internet, and every one of these men have been called a RINO on at least one of them.  How "conservative" you are considered depends entirely on how close you are to receiving the nomination; in fact, it is inversely proportional, I've observed.

And if they can't question your conservatism, then they question your credentials.  Huckabee received more than his share of questions about raising taxes in Arkansas, and just how big a role Perry has played in job creation in Texas is certainly a legitimate issue.  Some call it vetting, but the tone of the vast majority of these "questions" is far too ... personal, let's say; certainly too personal for people who've never met any of these candidates and only know what they find online (which may or may not even be accurate).  There are three types of people who do this:  the true believers (who will never be satisfied, because there is no perfect conservative with a perfect record of economic leadership), the devoted followers (who will never be satisfied until and unless their own prefered candidate is nominated), and the anyone-but-Romneyites (who will never be satisfied, because there is no one out there who is close enough to perfect to beat Romney, and even if there were, it's everlastingly too late for them to enter the race).

You see, just like with the Iraq War, there is more than one candidate who can address the issue of the economy.  Tim Pawlenty probably could have done it, but he dropped out when it became clear that he couldn't win the nomination, and he's now thrown his support behind the man who can (sort of like Romney himself did in 2008).  Now, there's Rick Perry (who, by the way, endorsed Giuliani in '08).  Perry and Romney are frontrunners, not (just) because one of them is Romney and because the other is the Anti-Romney, but because they're both considered credible enough to campaign on the economy against the president's economic policies, philosophies, and (lack of) results.  So, as in the case of McCain and Giuliani on the War on Terror, there must be a tiebreaker; and, as in that case, it will come down to who's the better campaigner and who's the more conservative candidate.

I don't think anyone questions that Romney's the better campaigner.  Except for Ron Paul, Romney's the only one who's run a national campaign, and his learning curve is much sharper than other candidates.  It would seem that Perry would be the more conservative candidate, but as the last three debates have demonstrated, things aren't so cut-and-dried.  Perry signed a law granting in-state tuition to students who were in Texas illegally, and he has continued to champion it.  Romney vetoed a similar law that came to him as Governor of Massachusetts.  On this and other issues, Romney is actually the more conservative candidate.  And, don't forget, Romney's spent the last two years helping conservative candidates get elected to positions in nearly all levels and branches of government across the country, including Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey.  The only high-profile election in which Perry involved himself that anyone seems to remember (besides his own) was when he campaigned for Al Gore.

So, the conservative angle is, at best, a tie with advantage Perry, and the campaign angle is absolutely Romney's.  That angle will be far more important in the general election for Republicans because, while the whole country is worried about the economy, conservatives are worried about removing Barack Obama from the White House.  But, they still don't like Romney.  They want another tiebreaker, someone who's "conservative" enough so they don't have to worry about nominating "another McCain".

To which I say:  grow up.

Mitt Romney is not John McCain.  I am giving you a "No Fail" guarantee if Romney is nominated to face Barack Obama in the general election.  The last election wasn't about the Iraq War, like everyone thought it would be; it was about the economy.  Neither Obama nor McCain was the right candidate for that debate, so it fell to the man who could campaign better.  If we had known that the economy would be the center of the election, then Romney would have campaigned on it and won, because not even Mike Huckabee could touch him on that front (and McCain certainly couldn't have).  And then, Romney would have won the general, because Obama would have had nothing with which to challenge Romney.

Well, this time around, we do know it'll be the economy, so let's pick the man who can do the best job; the man we should have picked the last time.  He's not conservative enough?  Who is?  Not Rick Perry, apparently.  He's not exciting enough?  Get over it!  This isn't about who's going to "pick a fight" or who's going to usher in a new era of conservatism; this is about 9% unemployment.  This is about millions of Americans out of work and millions more just scraping by.  This is about thousands of devastating taxes and regulations, and competing in an increasingly global economy.  It's about jobs, and inflation, and trillion-dollar deficits, and bloated spending programs, and a broken system in our nation's capital.  It's the economy, stupids!  Now, get out there and nominate someone who can fix it!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Ames Straw Poll - Predictions

Well, if the most famous straw poll in Republican presidential politics accomplishes one thing, it may be to return me to blogging.  If it accomplishes two things, it may significantly alter the current field of Republican candidates for president.  This post will focus on two questions:  who are the candidates, and how will the straw poll affect their candidacies?

Mitt Romney - The current frontrunner for the GOP nomination won the Ames Straw Poll in 2007, and that victory helped establish him as a credible alternative to the frontrunners for the 2008 nomination.  Although he isn't officially participating this year and hasn't campaigned as much in Iowa as in other states this year, he still retains a significant following in the state.  Some in the blogosphere scratch their heads at poll numbers indicating he's essentially tied with Michele Bachmann in the state, claiming that it must be mere name recognition.  However, while Romney fans may not be as vocal about their support for the former Governor of Massachusetts as certain other candidates' fans, they are no less loyal.

It's my prediction that Romney will decisively beat admittedly low expectations.  While he likely won't win, it's not outside the realm of possibility that he'll place in the top four.  If he does, in spite of barely campaigning in the state this year, then not only would it force every candidate who places below him in the straw poll to reconsider their bids, but it would also deal a blow to the "weak frontrunner" narrative that is following his campaign.

Michele Bachmann - The Congresswoman from Minnesota is the prohibitive favorite to win the straw poll, and it is my prediction she will do so.  She is, essentially, only challenged by Romney in the state, though that may change if certain other potential candidates enter the race (but we'll get to them later).  What will a win in the poll do for her campaign?  Well, at this point, it will only meet expectations.  She would need to win by a significant margin, say more than ten percent over the second place finisher, to cause even mild surprise among pundits.  Not winning the poll, of course, even if she finished second, would be a blow to her effort to distinguish herself as a credible candidate, not only in terms of rhetoric, but organization, as well.  After all, that's what this straw poll truly tests about the candidates.

Tim Pawlenty - Organization is, perhaps, all the former Governor of Minnesota has going for him, in Iowa or anywhere else.  Though that organization may help him in the straw poll, it cannot make up for the enthusiasm gap between him and several other candidates.  His campaign has tried to lower expectations, but at this point, it's hard to say what a realistic expectation would be.  I probably wouldn't predict that he'd even be in the top three if it weren't for the fact that most of his opponents have even less going for them than he has.  While his campaign would desperately try to spin even a third place finish as a positive development, and while their hopes would no doubt hinge on lower place finishers dropping out after the poll, it wouldn't change the fact that he's just not that popular.

My prediction is he'll take third place (by a very small margin), he'll spin the results as best he can, and he'll hope against hope that he can think of something, anything, to justify staying in the race at least until the Iowa Caucuses next year, when he will again try to lower expectations.

Ron Paul - The political fortunes of the septuagenarian Congressman from Texas have increased over the last few years, but only in a relative sense.  His ardent and vocal supporters ensure that he wins virtually every straw poll and online poll in which he is a candidate, but they may not be quite enough to propel him to victory in Iowa.  Certainly, he'll do well in the straw poll, especially with the organization he's built up, but it's my prediction he won't rise above second place.  It won't really matter how his campaign or his supporters choose to spin the results, as the most interesting and important part of the Iowa campaign will be how he does in the Caucuses.  But I'll refrain from making that prediction, for now.

Herman Cain - He won't win.  He won't even place.  Of the nine declared candidates, he may, may make it to fifth place on the strength of his ideas and his business credentials, which are so desperately needed in the White House right now.  However, he's not ready for prime time, as they say, and people can tell that.  He won't drop out, though.  Even if he loses to a write-in candidate, he's in it for as long as he can afford to be.  Herman Cain's is a candidacy of ideas, and the main idea is that we need someone who is not a career politician in the race.  So far, he's the only person who undisputably fits that description.  I don't know how long he'll last, but he'll stay in the race after today, no matter what the outcome.

Newt Gingrich - All the former Speaker of the House of Representatives has, at this point, is ideas; and that's likely all he'll have after today, as well.  People can talk all they want about how John McCain lost in Iowa and then went on to win the nomination, but Gingrich is not McCain.  For one thing, Gingrich is actually competing in Iowa.  For another, his staff didn't resign because of money problems; they resigned because of him.  As with Cain, placing fifth in the polls may give him some cover, especially since it would mean beating extremely low expectations.  However, it is my prediction that he won't even do that well, considering he doesn't have enough money to actively participate.  That will also give him some cover to stay in the race (for a little longer, at least), but he'd have to do better than at least a few candidates for anyone to take him seriously after today.

Rick Santorum - The former Senator from Pennsylvania has spent an exhaustive amount of time in Iowa lately, as it is pretty much his only hope for doing well in this election.  Expectations are about as low for him as they are for Gingrich and Cain; it will essentially be a three-way tie for fifth between them among the low-tier candidates.  Unlike Gingrich and Cain, though, Santorum may be realistic enough to leave the race if he places too low.  He has ideas, principles, and just as much to say as anyone else; but you can't run for president on ideas alone, and he'd have a better platform for those ideas at his old job on Fox News than as a struggling also-ran.

Jon Huntsman - Officially not competing in either the straw poll or Iowa itself gives him perhaps the lowest expectations of all the declared candidates on the ballot.  The former Governor of Utah has no real base, organization, or strategy for Iowa, except possibly to not even try to beat his ground-level expectations.  Like Romney, he'll be campaigning in New Hampshire while all other candidates work to win, or at least not lose, in Ames.

Thaddeus McCotter - Even most people who have been following the race may struggle to remember the Congressman from Michigan who entered the race just in time to get a spot on the straw poll ballot.  That places him just above the other "last-tier" candidates (Fred Karger, Buddy Roemer, and Gary Johnson) who couldn't even make it onto the ballot in Ames.  Because his name recognition is so low and he began his campaign so late, McCotter is the only candidate besides Huntsman who can "survive" a last-place finish among those whose names are actually on the ballot.  But he won't survive for long if he can't at least find his way into a televised debate.

Sarah Palin - Ah, one can never write an article about the forthcoming Republican nomination without at least mentioning the 2008 vice presidential candidate, who has been spending a certain amount of time in Iowa lately.  Though she won't "officially" make a decision for another month or so, she can't go anywhere in any state without drawing media attention, whether deliberately or inadvertantly.  She's not officially on the ballot in Ames, but there is room to write in a candidate, and her following is certainly devoted, whether she runs for president or not.  Look for her to do better than at least half the field today.

Rick Perry - The Governor of Texas is another potential write-in candidate, and he is announcing his candidacy for the presidency today.  While many GOP operatives in Iowa may not like the idea of him "stealing the limelight" from the straw poll with his announcement, there are no doubt plenty of voters in Iowa who would love have Governor Perry as an official candidate on the ballot and will be happy to write him in.  He'll beat some, or maybe all, of the lower-tiered candidates, and that may intimidate one or two of them into leaving the race.  His campaign will spin any outcome as a positive for him, of course.

My prediction, though, is that many pundits will watch how he does against Romney in the poll.  Neither has spent much time in Iowa, and both are considered national frontrunners.  Indeed, as much as Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty seem to be vying for second place in the overall nomination, the fight for first is generally considered to be between Romney and Perry.  If Perry places behind Romney in the poll today, then "no one" will take it as a sign of strength or weakness on either candidates' part; but if he places ahead of Romney, then keep your eyes open for a host of pundits (and Perry staffers) to portray it as evidence that Perry is definitely the stronger of the two.

Results - I predict the order of winners to be:

  1. Michele Bachmann
  2. Ron Paul
  3. Tim Pawlenty
  4. Mitt Romney
  5. Rick Perry
  6. Sarah Palin
  7. Herman Cain
  8. Rick Santorum
  9. Newt Gingrich
  10. Jon Huntsman
  11. Thaddeus McCotter

Monday, May 2, 2011

A man is dead

Osama bin Laden, the man most directly responsible for thousands of deaths on September 11, 2001 and many before and since, is now himself dead.  Killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in an operation that was months in planning, that was so secret that not even our allies who normally would have been informed ahead of time knew about it until the rest of the world knew, his death will be remembered alongside Saddam Hussein's and Adolf Hitler's (whose death, coincidentally, was announced 66 years to the day earlier).  Leaders and citizens of the world have expressed all sorts of reactions, from relief, gratitude, and jubilation to fear of reprisals against the men and women involved in the operation.  We pray, of course, for their safety and that of their families and loved ones in the aftermath.

Should we celebrate, though?  That a murderer and a terrorist can no longer plan the deaths of others, yes, we should celebrate.  But let us be sure that is what we celebrate.  Another man has died; another human being, another living person, another child of God has been killed.  That is not something we should celebrate.  Christians know this; we know that the law of the gospel is love, not hate.  I'm sure every religion in the world has a similar principle.  Even atheists must shake their heads a bit at the thought that any death can bring joy or glee.

I wrote an article on the nine-year anniversary of 9/11.  In it, I expressed my desire that, in the midst of all the fighting we do to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again, we not lose sight of what our true motivation should be:

I had always known that growing up in the church had given me a different perspective on life, and it certainly has in this case. The scriptures remind us, in many different ways, that vengeance is God's prerogative, and that ours is forgiveness. We're told repeatedly that the law of God is love, for our enemies as well as our neighbors. In the case of the nation of Islam, they are sometimes the same thing. I've said before and still believe that the authors of terror and murder deserve whatever punishment they have coming to them; but that doesn't mean we should hate them. When a group or nation declares war on us or our way of life, it is our responsibility to defend ourselves, and even those who cannot defend themselves; but we should never do it with hate in our hearts. We were enemies with Adolf Hitler, with Mussolini, and with Hirohito, but when World War II ended, we helped Germany, Italy, and Japan rebuild, and now we're strong allies with each nation. We were enemies with Saddam Hussein, but now we have what could be a strong ally in Iraq.

Did Islam itself attack us? Even if it did, we should not hate them, anymore than we should hate each other for how we each choose to respond to the attack.
I wrote a piece last year about the Civil War and my governor's decision to issue a proclamation commemorating the sacrifices of the soldiers who fought for the South.  Someone commented, "If you are going to shed a tear for soldiers that fought for something they believe in then please note the next Taliban, Nazi, or other terrorist you would mourn."  I responded, "there's a difference between a Nazi and a member of Germany's armed forces circa 1940. Do you doubt that any of the troops in Hitler's army were press-ganged into service?  As for al Qaeda and the Taliban, the same principle applies. The authors of terror and murder deserve whatever punishment we can give them; but when you take a child and brainwash him from infancy to hate America, who's to blame for when he grows up and wants to destroy us?"
While I don't mourn the death of Osama bin Laden, I don't celebrate it, either.  We're in a world that has too much violence, too much bloodshed, too much death and devastation already.  That it should even be necessary to kill someone to prevent him from killing others is a tragedy, and I will not celebrate tragedy.  The War on Terror is not over, as some would like it to be; there are still terrorists and murderers out there, and we must still be vigilant and protective against them.  I breathe a sigh of relief that the man behind 9/11 is in God's hands now, to punish as He sees fit; but I do not hate him, nor his companions, nor his family.  You should not, either.