Monday, July 25, 2011

Mitt Romney: the Default Candidate

By standing on the sidelines and scrupulously avoiding making any statements that might provoke disagreement, Mitt Romney is leading the polls of Republican presidential contenders.

Desperation does not make for good judgment. Republicans are so desperate to win, so desperate to make Barack Obama a one-term president, that they are gravitating to Mitt Romney.

So explains Roger Kimball. I second his motion.

The dinner party at which Kimball observed this offered some insight into the way New York Republicans-- I’m assuming that they are Republicans-- were thinking about candidate selection.

If they had said that they would support the candidate most likely to win, that would be one thing. Today’s polls suggest that Romney would do best against Obama.

For my part I believe that Romney is the default candidate, the candidate people fall back on while waiting for a better alternative to step forth.

If so, then Romney is misreading his popularity. If he imagines that sitting on the sidelines and acting as though he is above the fray will accrue to his advantage, he is likely to be disappointed.

Kimball’s dinner partners, however, did not say that they were supporting Romney because he is the most electable. They said that they wanted to support the candidate who could best attack President Obama.

On that score, one thinks of Chris Christie, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry. When, pray tell, has Mitt Romney ever shown the tenacity or aggressiveness to attack anyone over anything.

So, there is an element of illogic to what Kimball was hearing.

One suspects that Romney is the one name you can mention at a New York dinner party without fearing that it’s your last New York dinner party.

Romney is surely the least offensive candidate. He is the least likely to provoke contempt or scorn. No one is going to accuse him of being stupid. If you say that you favor him, no one is going to accuse you of being stupid or being a fascist.

Kimball adds that Romney is, by far, the most Establishment candidate in the field.

In particular, he represents the Northeast Republican Establishment. In the age of the Tea Party, you would not think that the Republican party would rally to a Northeastern Republican, even if he appears today to be the most electable.

It is risky, Kimball adds, to nominate an Establishment candidate when the country has lost confidence in the Establishment. Romney is offering more of the same, only better managed, at a time when the American people are looking for something different.

Kimball says that Romney: “ a company man when the problem is the company. What is wanted is not a more efficient Washington insider.  What is wanted is someone who understands that a large part of our problem is the hothouse culture in which the Washington inside has taken root and thrived. Romney would not change the culture of Washington; he would cater to it, manage and massage it.”

How did Romney become the default candidate? Perhaps, it’s because he looks the part. This is unfortunate, because electing a president is not the same as casting a movie. What else did Barack Obama have going for him beyond looking the part?

Ah yes, but people will tell you that Romney has experience. Kimball discounts it more than I would, saying that the question is more competence than experience.

I would say that Obama has neither, and that Romney, with experience and demonstrated competence has an advantage on this score.

Neither are likely to suffice. A presidential candidate should be able to highlight his accomplishments while setting forth a vigorous agenda for America’s future.

Kimball is correct to ask what accomplishments Romney brings to the table. We recall that Romney’s experience in private equity was shredded by John Kerry when the two competed for a Massachusetts Senate seat.

Private equity investors work to rationalize corporate structure. This often involves mass layoffs. How much time do you think it will take the DNC to roll out ads starring men and women who lost their jobs because of the financial shenanigans of Mitt Romney.

As for Romeny’s great political achievements, Kimball can only come up with Romneycare, which is a prototype for Obamacare.

As of now, Romney has refused to distance himself from his own plan, and has used double talk to show how different his plan is from Obamacare.

The truth is: if Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee, then the party will not be able to make Obamacare an issue in the campaign. Having just won an extraordinary victory in the mid-term elections by running against Obamacare, why would the Republican party neutralize the issue in 2012.

More importantly, in Kimball’s eyes, is the question of what Romney stands for. It is easy to be the most acceptable candidate when you have never taken a position on the difficult issues of the day. Does it mean something that candidate Romney is so expert at not giving offense.

Kimball explains: “What, for example, does he think about the debt ceiling?  We don’t know. He hasn’t said.  What specific spending cuts would he suggest to help rein in the deficit? We don’t know. He hasn’t said. The list of things Mitt Romney hasn’t weighed in about would fill a campaign.”

Unfortunately, aloof has a limited shelf life.

At some point, a candidate must take a stand on issues. And he must present a positive agenda. It is not enough to be the Un-Obama.

One hopes that Kimball is right to say that Romney is least likely to garner the Republican presidential nomination.

Even if he is indulging some wishful thinking, it's better than the strange rationalizations that he was hearing at the dinner party.

In his words: “I found it depressing that several distinguished guests at that party could trot out the name of Mitt Romney and believe they had given us something new or at least vital. Mitt Romney is a congeries of yesterday’s establishment Republican — well, I was going to say “clichés,” but so far what he has offered us doesn’t rise to the level of a cliché, which may be tired but at least is something definite. Mitt Romney has tone but no substance. Reality has a way of exposing emptiness and shedding an unflattering light upon equivocation, which is as close as Mitt Romney has come to articulating a policy about any of the critical issues we face.”

Right now, Mitt Romney is the default candidate. He is least likely to take the fight to Obama. He is least likely to harness the energy that has sustained the Tea Party. At a moment when Congressional Republicans are fighting a good fight over spending and taxes, Mitt Romney is nowhere to be found.

Kimball is surely hoping that he stays there.


David Foster said...

From an electability standpoint, Romney has the huge deficiency that he talks like a PowerPoint presentation, and not a particularly good one at that. On financial matters, he uses too much jargon rather than translating it into terms that would be more meaningful to most people.

Regarding his business career: my blogfriend Bill Waddell, an experienced manufacturer and manufacturing consultant, believes Bain Capital's activities go beyond "rationalizing the corporate structure" and reflect short-termism at its worse. See looting factories for fun and profit. You can bet that all the horror stories Bill mentions, and a lot more besides, would be dredged up and exploited by the Democrats.

Robert Pearson said...

So a Mormon has become the candidate of the Eastern Establishment. The nation has come a long way, Baby! As a political professional I do have some slight disagreement with you on his electability. 2012 will come down to who wins FL, MI, OH, PA, NC, VA and one or two others. Almost every other state is in the bag for someone. Romney has the potential to persuade the working class in those states that he will be good for them. He will, of course, have to open up a good deal about specifics, but I think his frontrunner hold-your-fire strategy right now is proper. Eventually, he will have to find within himself the steel and nerve to take risks and say things that anger someone. I agree with you that if he cannot, he does not deserve the nomination and would lose the election. But there is still time to see.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I will defer to your professional knowledge about Romney. I think that Kimball was saying that Romney is out of tune with the national mood. While a lot of Repubs find him unobjectionable-- though many find him very objectionable, it's fair to notice-- I am not sure that he will ever be able to electrify crowds, to the point where he can really convince them that he is one of them. Chris Christie can do it; Rich Perry can do it.

Where a Christie took on vested Dem interest groups and persuaded people to follow his lead, I don't see Romney doing the same thing.

And then, as David points out, there's the matter of Bain Capital. Since I do not know the specifics of their business I used to most bland general statement.

Yet, when Romney ran against Kerry he was tarred with its record. And a national campaign against a president who has accomplished nothing is going to hinge on negative attacks on the Rep. nominee. I am wondering how vulnerable a Romney will be.

Anonymous said...

I've been watching Romney since he first ran for the senate against Ted Kennedy. He actually managed to perform badly against a bloated, alcoholic, unintelligent traitor.

He always came across to me as a stuffed shirt. Clearly anyone as successful in business isn't, but that's the impression he gives.

As usual, the Republicans will nominate him because it's his turn. Just like they nominated Bob Dole. One might almost conclude that they like losing.

While I'm on the subject, I vote Republican because I want low taxes, limited government, and strong national defense.

What I get is creationism, flag-burning amendments, and the pledge of allegiance.

Robert Pearson said...

I too believe Chris Christie would have been an ideal candidate for this particular moment in history. Especially because he is moderate on the so-called "social conservative" issues that anon above objects to. This is going to be an economics election. I believe Rick Perry is the only one who can defeat Romney for the nomination. Though I really like Michell Bachmann i don't think she can get the delegates across many diverse states. That is an attempt to be objective. Objectively, too, Romney is going to lose some votes to anti-Mormon prejudice.

We all should remember that at this point four years ago John McCain was teetering on the brink, staff leaving, fundraising mediocre...there's a lesson for early handicapping.