Friday, February 01, 2008

Romney: Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

For better or for worse, we’re down to two serious contenders for the presidency in each party. Tuesday may narrow the field even more, but that’s not completely clear. On the GOP side, Tuesday’s slate seems to favor McCain (Bob Dole 2.0), leaving Romney on the ropes. (Romney will win in Utah, of course.)

If you consider yourself a conservative, it would seem that Romney is your best bet. While McCain has a pretty good lifetime conservative record, his record in recent years is far less so — particularly on issues that many conservatives find highly important. McCain is unstintingly strong on the military, but the rest of his record looks quite moderate or even liberal.

Romney has a fantastic business record. But when you look at his record as an elected official, any conservative edge he might have over McCain seems to evaporate.

Former Congressman (and current Romney campaign chair) Vin Weber (R-MN) argues passionately in this article in favor of Romney. He cites three firm reasons why conservatives should line up behind Romney. Weber says Romney will strengthen families, strengthen the military, and strengthen the economy.

But the WSJ editors provide some clarity in this article as to why many conservatives are uneasy about Romney. They note that Romney’s penchant for developing successful strategies after “wallowing in data” works superbly in a business setting. But they worry that it does not work well in a political setting.

“Washington's problem isn't a lack of data, or a failure to calibrate the incentives as in the business world. Congress and the multiple layers of government respond exactly as you'd expect given the incentives for self-preservation and turf protection that always exist in political institutions. The only way to overcome them is with leadership on behalf of good ideas backed by public support.”

The WSJ editors worry that “we haven't been able to discern from [Romney’s] campaign, or his record in Massachusetts, what his core political principles are.” In a political setting, a leader must have strong moorings, or else they will soon find themselves drifting about, or being pushed about by the various interests. Just look what happened with RomneyCare in Massachusetts.

McCain, the WSJ editors argue, is a known entity. Conservatives already know where he will betray them and where he will stand with them. The opinion polls won’t really matter to him. What about Romney? Is there anywhere he can be trusted to draw the line? Well, that’s simply not very clear. And that is why many conservatives are uneasy about him.

Another concern is Romney’s attempt to take the appropriate stance on every conservative issue. As Romney supporter Dean Barnett explains in this article, Romney won all of the important conservative constituencies in Florida last Tuesday, but it still wasn’t enough. In essence, he won folks that listen to conservative talk radio, but the GOP consists of far more groups than these.

If Romney is going to be viable, he has to appeal to a much broader audience than he currently seems to be reaching. Even if he were to win the GOP nomination, it will take a lot more than just Republican votes to win the presidency.

The fact is that Romney faces two serious issues. 1) Does he have credibility on the issues he currently espouses? 2) Can he appeal to a broad enough constituency to win? Neither of these questions has been settled. If Romney can’t win the nomination this year, he will have a few years to see if he can settle these questions. Maybe voters a few years from now will be more pleased with Romney 2.0.


George said...

I thought it was insightful regarding Mitt and his loss in Florida from a CNN analyst who said it was the Cubans and Latinos who rallied against him. One could by extension suggest he will lose CA for the same reason. McCain's immigration policies and views about the undocumented seem to be closer to the mainstream LDS views at least those whom I have heard urging compassion and tolerance. Why is Mitt less tolerant in this?

The good news is that any R loses to either Hillary or Obama. I hope that continues through the November elections.

Scott Hinrichs said...

It is difficult to imagine how Hillary Clinton being president could be construed as good news to anybody but Bill and Hillary. Except, perhaps, for Republicans, who could expect to have a 2010 revolution similar to the 1994 revolution. On the other hand, one liberal, disappointed with the way the Democratic race has turned out, says that between Obama and Hillary, he thinks Hillary would damage the country the least. Now, there's a ringing endorsement.

George said...

So, you did not offer an opinion why Mitt, Hatch and some other LDS in our state legislature seem to be out of step with Church leadership concerning the undocumented, any comment?

Scott Hinrichs said...

I don't fully understand the phenomenon myself. However, these guys are politicians.

When conservatives successfully defeated the broad-based immigration reform bill last year, GOP politicians got a wake-up call telling them that they had been ignoring a segment of the party that simply would no longer be ignored. I think that GOP politicans feel that they must at least make it look like they're going to get serious about closing down our porous southern border and enforcing laws or else face the wrath of those voters. Note that even McCain says he got the message.

The LDS Church's pronouncements on immigration have been pretty unspecific. They talk about respecting all people, being good neighbors, not acting harshly, helping others, making sure people of all national origins can be educated, etc. They do not say, "Don't enforce the laws."

Orrin and Mitt likely believe that their stances on stronger enforcement do not run afoul of LDS Church positions. It would be interesting to be able to discuss this with them in a private setting to find out what they're really thinking.

NonArab-Arab said...

I really don't get the logic of harping on immigration as a "respect the law" issue. There are thousands of stupid laws on the book that deserve to be ignored or protested. Each is an individual case, and with something as gigantic an economic, social, and political issue as immigration, why is there this knee-jerk reaction the part of some to sweep all discussion of the issue under the rug in the name of "enforcing the law"?

Scott Hinrichs said...

Immigration is a significant issue. If we are going to regulate it, let's do it appropriately. If we have laws that are screwed up, let's fix them to work according to reality and our national interest. Otherwise, let's just scrap them.

Part of the conservative stance on immigration is to force politicians to actually fix the stupid immigration laws we have on the books. It makes no sense to have these laws and then just sort of enforce them. It makes no sense to nod and wink and look the other way (making businesses happy), while forcing onerous restrictions on American citizens that travel outside of the country and foreigners that come here legally, and while enforcing all kinds of regulations and taxes on legal employers and workers.

Bad immigration laws should not be something we can choose to ignore when it suits our fancy. It is not like the unenforced law a city near me has that imposes a fine for spitting on the sidewalk.

An immoral law should not be obeyed. A law that cannot reasonably be obeyed doesn't deserve to be obeyed. Dumb laws that have no impact, such as the sidewalk spitting rule, may be more costly to fix than to ignore. But immigration is not among these. Since our politicians lack the will to really fix the laws, pressure must be applied to get them to do so.

The people that want the borders controlled say that our politicians' track record on honoring the immigration laws they pass shows that the politicians can't be trusted on this issue. They want a step-wise approach that begins with showing that they can actually follow through on one thing before moving on to the next. Somehow this seems like a wiser way to go than to just pass yet another spate of laws that will be ignored.

Tiffany said...

McCain's strength on military issues is relatively recent. Where was McCain during the 90'2 when Clinton and Cohen were dismantling the U.S. military? He was standing by in the U.S. Senate talking about what a great friend Bill Cohen is.

McCain is strong on the war. Stong on the military becomes more of stretch.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Tiffany, you have a good point. One characteristic that politicians that come from a military background often have, oddly enough, is a tension/ambivalent approach to politics. It causes them to be contentious about some things while compromising on others in ways that consternate their constituents. Eisenhower exhibited this same characteristic.