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!