Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Romney's Inevitability

For those of us who have seen Romney as inevitable, pretty much from the time the candidate pool was established, answering the question, "How did it happen", has been easy: The rest of the candidate pool was not very good. Most of the candidates had serious flaws, baggage, or credibility problems that made it seem pretty obvious that they would fail. The fact that many within the party want an alternative to Romney has been obvious, also from the outset. But there are two problems: First, the various people who did not enter the race who have been ballyhooed as possible saviors of the party are also seriously flawed, and second, the number of litmus tests imposed on Republican candidates make it very difficult for a candidate to enter the race without seeming as empty-headed or two-faced as the candidates who are already running. Romney is in a unique position in that to the extent that he fails to meet litmus tests he is nonetheless a known quantity - he failed those tests four years ago.

Daniel Larison suggests,
Conservatives did not rally behind any one candidate to oppose Romney months ago because I think many of them expected Romney to falter or implode long before this, so they thought they had the luxury of time to choose from among the alternatives. Romney didn’t implode, and conservatives frittered away valuable time on various long-shot and incompetent candidates.
I think, more accurately, Jeb Bush chose not to run because he would still be dragged down by his brother's disastrous record, and he is young enough to wait four or eight years to try for the nomination, Rick Perry revealed himself to be a woefully incompetent candidate, and the rest of the names that get tossed out don't reflect candidates any better qualified or more appealing than the better half of those who were already running,1 and some are just plain unelectable.

But there's more to the analysis than people being used to Mitt Romney, or pundits waxing romantic about how presidential he looks. If you examine his record it's fair to say that the man has no core beliefs, that he's willing to bend and compromise on anything in order to gain power, that he stands for nothing but himself. But that would be completely wrong. There is one issue for which Romney has been 100% consistent, as far as I can tell, from the day his daddy bought him his first copy of the Wall Street Journal: He's 100%, unequivocally on the side of Wall Street and the financial industry. Josh Marshall finds it weird that "Romney surrogate and former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu" has "suggested that the investor community might punish Newt-backer Sheldon Adelson for funding Newt’s anti-Bain Capital movie".
Does he think that people don't remember when you attack them and pay for the attacks in a primary, especially when one ever the parties receiving that attack is a party he likes to go to to finance his expansions?
The "King of Bain" movie may be an attack on 1980's style corporate raiders and leveraged buyouts, and it's certainly an attack on Mitt Romney, but it's only arguably an attack on Wall Street by proxy - when you go after their boy you go after them.2

I believe that concern about Romney comes from two directions:

First, from Republicans who believe that he cannot be trusted to hold to the party line on anything, given that he has a history of political compromise. Quite notably, the compromise that led to his health insurance program being implemented in Massachusetts reveals not only his support for a plan almost identical to the Affordable Care Act, it reflects how he will orchestrate a compromise bill that cedes a lot to his political opponents in order to position himself for his next anticipated election.3 That is, once in office Romney's concern will be to be reelected, and probably also to try to rank as a great President, and he knows full well that the gridlock and partisanship of the past few years will do nothing but tarnish his presidency.

Second, there appears to be a genuine concern that Romney will prove to be a wooden, uncharismatic candidate whose past waffling, and present advocacy for wealth and power, will lead to his self-destruction on the campaign trail. The Bain stuff is coming out now, some say too early. But he seems intent on maintaining his tax returns as a campaign issue - not wanting to disclose how much he earns as an "unemployed" person, the comparatively tiny amount he pays in taxes on his millions in passive income, or confirm that he exploits overseas tax shelters to further reduce his tax obligations.

Romney is subject to attacks on his personal integrity - and he doesn't do much to help himself on that front with his own dubious commitment to facts and truthfulness - and to political attacks from the right ("He's a phony, he will compromise with Democrats") and the left ("Why should we worry about President Romney? Sure, he'll fight tooth and nail to prevent reasonable regulation of the financial industry or steps to hold them accountable, and will bail them out in a heartbeat, but on pretty much every other issue he has at one time or another staked out positions to the left of President Obama.")

Concerns that Romney is not sufficiently in line with the religious right? As long as no third party candidate runs to draw off the most ardent of religious conservative voters, it will be Republican politics as usual: Say what it takes to get the religious right to come out and vote Republican, toss them a few bones once in office, talk a good game, but deliver little of substance. To a degree it's better to keep the religious right unhappy, because if their issues were actually addressed they might lose the fire in their collective belly and stop performing as such a reliable Republican voting bloc. But no danger of that - the Republican Party is personified by Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum - public piety, perhaps in Santorum's case actually believed, but advancing an agenda that benefits wealth and power, and helps them obtain and maintain wealth and power once they leave office. it's called lip service - they should be used to it by now.
1. Common suggestions are Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Bobby Jindal, Haley Barbour, Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, and John Thune.

2. (Added) Since I wrote this, it has been observed that Romney appears to have prepared to respond to attacks on his record by Democrats with childish, misleading name-calling - and he has not changed his tactics, so his hacks and proxies are now accusing other Republicans of being socialists or "sounding like" Occupy Wall Street.

3. The insurance reform he achieved as governor was supposed to be a cornerstone of his campaign for the presidency as the man who could bring a conservative, free market reform to the nation's health insurance market. The frenzied, reactionary opposition to the Affordable Care Act turned his success into something of a liability, but one to which voters have become accustomed - perhaps it was voter opposition to a Massachusetts/ACA-style reform that has proved to be overstated.

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