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Saturday, January 07, 2012

Can Romney's commitment to expediency be a substitute for reliable conservative instincts?

I was intrigued by Fred Barnes' essay in the online Weekly Standard entitled "More Conservative Than You Think: The New Mitt Romney." Barnes marshals solid evidence to support the premise that — based upon Gov. Romney's current positions —

[Romney is] at least as conservative as his GOP rivals on jettisoning Obamacare and more conservative than some on entitlements, national security, and immigration. He’s no match for Gingrich on taxes, but that’s about it. Overall, he’s to the right of Gingrich.

Nevertheless, Barnes immediately notes, "Romney wasn’t always there" — and then Barnes proceeds to acknowledge some of the landmarks from Gov. Romney's political record which may indeed have reflected the preferences of Gov. Romney's constituency in Massachusetts, but which are considerably to the left of the national GOP mainstream.

Barnes' concluding lines are especially apt, but they don't necessarily support the essay's title thesis and, indeed, they may undercut it:

[Romney]’s neither a movement conservative nor an ideological conservative. He’s a pragmatist for whom conservatism makes the most sense. That it helps him politically no doubt makes sense, too.

And therein lies the best comfort for American conservatives who are wondering whether they can generate enthusiastic support for Gov. Romney if he becomes the nominee: If you think he values expediency over principle, then take comfort that the choices a President Romney will find expedient will indeed be conservative ones — if he wants to be re-nominated by the GOP in 2016! Besides, the Tea Party-influenced conservative "Young Guns" who've been driving the national policy debate from the House GOP since January 2011 — and yes, I'm referring specifically to the guy who my sidebar still urges we draft in lieu of anyone now running, but not only to him — would drag any GOP president in mostly the correct direction if the GOP can also recapture a working majority in the Senate. 

The reason Romney has continued to hover in the mid-20% range in the GOP national polls, of course, is not because GOP voters disagree with the substance of the policies he's endorsing now. Their concern is that, like George H.W. Bush when he went back on his "Read My Lips" pledge, Romney will get talked out of his current positions — that he'll get suckered by the Dems the way Bush-41 did.

My own concern, however, is actually a variation of that.

Gov. Romney's main credential is as an "executive," in multiple senses of that word: as a business executive and turn-around specialist at Bain Capital; as the executive who took charge over the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics (another turn-around job); and as chief executive of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He demonstrated genuinely impressive management skills in each of those jobs. Certainly we need a well-managed turn-around from the disastrous path the current White House has put the country on.

What I fear, though, is that in addition to bringing well-honed management skills, Gov. Romney may also bring the East Coast/Ivy League confidence in technocracy. I specifically fear that Mitt Romney shares with Barack Obama an over-confidence in his own — and indeed, in anyone's — ability to use the federal government to solve problems.

I don't want a clever president who just does different things than Obama's been doing. I want a president who's wise enough to know that what's most important now is for the federal government to do less: to spend less; to tax no more; to meddle and nag and intrude less; to quote-unquote "protect" me from myself less (e.g., "protecting" me from making disfavored decisions on what kind of light bulb to buy); to stop trying to transfer wealth; to quit trying to pick losers and winners, and enforce those picks despite (and sometimes contrary to) the Rule of Law; and to quit trying to "manage" the economy, but to simply be predictable and get the hell out of its way.

Put another way: I fear that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have more in common with each other than either has in common with Calvin Coolidge. And we need the discipline of Calvin Coolidge. We need fewer 49-point programs and more zero-point (as in, "we're getting the federal government out of this") programs.

Simply undoing all the bad that Obama has done is a huge management challenge. That's a lot of what needs doing. But it's not the hardest part of what, unfortunately, must be done: Without fundamental entitlements reform, our government will absolutely, positively be bankrupt before this decade is out. The reforms must be in the direction of replacing government top-down controls and Washington management with free-market competition and individual liberty; no other reforms can lead to anything but shared scarcity and progressive impoverishment of the entire nation. Managing those reforms will require as much competency and energy as Romney or anyone else could muster.

There are at least a half dozen conservative leaders whom I'd rather see as the nominee than Mitt Romney precisely because I'm confident they "get" all this. I am confident, based on their performance in office, that they understand the limited role of government in general and the federal government in particular. But none of them are presently running for president.

Of those who are running, Perry gets this (in its broadest outlines) but can't win. Nor Laup gets it but is crazy, mean, and isolationist, and can't win. Santorum claims to get it, but we have to take his word for that (just like Romney's) because when Santorum was in office, he was a big-government Republican too. And Gingrich gets it, but only three days a week. (Then Newt's on the Beltway couch with Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry for three more days, and then on one of the moons of Jupiter for each seventh day.)

I'm not hoping for a stand-off through the primaries and for a floor-fight leading to a brokered convention. But on the other hand:

Most delegates awarded through the primaries are only pledged for a limited number of ballots and/or days, and many of them aren't pledged beyond the very first ballot. We just saw Rick Santorum come from months of single-digit polling to tied-for-first in a matter of days — and do we count him as the fourth "not-Romney" to become the flavor-of-the-week, or is he the fifth? I've lost count. If Romney can't nail down a first-ballot nomination before the convention, could the final flavor-of-the-week end up being someone not currently running? Someone who wasn't in the primaries at all?

Probably not. But I'm not quite ready yet to take down my sidebar.

Posted by Beldar at 05:35 AM in 2012 Election, Obama, Politics (2012), Romney, Ryan | Permalink


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(1) Beldar made the following comment | Jan 7, 2012 5:54:14 AM | Permalink

Yes, the phrase "progressive impoverishment of the entire nation" is an intentional double entendre.

(2) Beldar made the following comment | Jan 7, 2012 6:41:23 AM | Permalink

And actually, Nor Laup doesn't even "get it" on entitlement reforms. He's a terribly flawed libertarian standard-bearer, alas.

(3) Boyd made the following comment | Jan 7, 2012 11:46:34 AM | Permalink

While I would vote for your man-crush (and mine) in a heartbeat...well, everybody's gotta have a dream.

(4) leon dixon made the following comment | Jan 7, 2012 1:29:26 PM | Permalink

Leave the Ryan side bar up. Pay attention to Indiana's Mitch Danials for your wish list. I even like Gov. Palin because duh media is always going to be against the conservative.

(5) Michael Adams made the following comment | Jan 8, 2012 9:50:08 AM | Permalink

I am currently leaning toward Santorum, but my Conservative friends in Massachusetts, all two of them, assure me that Romney signed "Romney Care" into law to forestall something much worse. Since Romney Care is such an important data point in establishing Romney's Conservative standing, or the lack thereof, that's a context that ought to be considered. We do,indeed, "see through a glass darkly."

(6) LibertyAtStake made the following comment | Jan 9, 2012 9:53:42 AM | Permalink

The only reason the new Mittens is "more conservative" than the old Mittens is he needs the TEA Party vote. Let's just keep it that way, and build on it.

“Because the Only Good Progressive is a Failed Progressive”

(7) Greg Q made the following comment | Jan 9, 2012 12:01:50 PM | Permalink

"Perry can't win"? Why not? I'd say he has a much better chance that Paul Ryan does.

Gingrich had a second boom, that went away because he's such a failed candidate. Perry, OTOH, has addressed the flaws that killed him the first time around. Further, he's dealt with his weakness in the proper way: he's acknowledged it as a problem, and laughs at himself for the problem, not at others for seeing it as a problem.

If Romney wins NH, with a mish-mash in second place, won't that encourage SC voters to give Perry another look? And if he gets that other look, doesn't he look significantly better than all the other "not-Mitt" candidates, from a conservative / TEA Party POV?

(8) Beldar made the following comment | Jan 10, 2012 4:51:48 AM | Permalink

Greg Q, no, Perry cannot win. He had a fair chance; with it, he convinced at least 80% of the potential GOP primary voters outside of Texas that he is a moron.

His candidacy is over, and has been over for weeks, and now he's making a fool of himself (as with his attacks on Romney for being a businessman).

(9) Greg Q made the following comment | Jan 10, 2012 10:52:13 AM | Permalink


While I agree with you about his attacks against Romney, I look at Santorum, Gingrich, Paul, and Huntsman, and say "there's no way a TEA Partier can support any of these guys." That leaves Romney or Perry.

How many people actually watched those early debates? Even if their opinions are set in stone, for the rest they've heard that Perry made a fool out of himself. But he's not doing that now, and he's far and away the best on the issues (get the Federal Govt out of people's lives, SS is a Ponzi scheme being two that immediately come to mind).

If Perry were willingly ignorant, I'd drop him in a heartbeat. But, so far as I can tell, his problems last summer came from the fact that he hasn't spent the last X years obsessing about running for President, and his good performance now is coming from his ability and willingness to learn. When looking for someone to support, I value both those things.

At a practical level, the SC voters have to chose between two Mormons, a Catholic, a lunatic (laup nor), a serial philanderer, and Perry. It's not noble of me to hope there's a lot of bigots who end up not being able to vote for the first three, but since I find two of them (Huntsman, who doesn't think TEA Partiers are "sane", and Santorum, who is a W style big-government conservative) unacceptable for other reasons, I'll take what I can get.

(10) Beldar made the following comment | Jan 10, 2012 5:01:14 PM | Permalink

Greg Q, I understand all your arguments, and appreciate your civil tone and the time you've taken to express yourself here; your comments are indeed welcome.

But none of your observations change the repeated self-inflicted mortal wounds Gov. Perry has inflicted on his own candidacy on national television.

You're right that only a minority of Republican primary voters watched all of the national debates. A majority watched at least some, however. And more importantly, a large majority of likely voters from either party have seen multiple video clips of Perry's debate blunders, and probably 95%+ of likely 2012 voters from both parties have seen — and many of those have been irrevocably convinced by — the clip of Perry brandishing three fingers and declaring that he was about to list the three cabinet departments he wants to abolish, followed by his "Oops."

He cannot recover; he is not recovering; he cannot win. It doesn't matter who the other candidates are. If they all dropped out of the race tomorrow, the GOP would find a way to nominate someone other than Rick Perry.

I don't think he'd win a state-wide race for Texas today if he had to run one; he'd certainly have lost the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary if he'd performed against Kay Bailey Hutchison in that race the way he's behaved in this one. He's now actively destroying his Texas base on a day-by-day basis. Since August, he's gone from governor of the most successful state in America to national punch-line -- and now he seems intent on completing that transition and making it permanent.

I agree that's unfortunate, but that's reality. He needs to get out of the race.

Pretending that Gov. Perry is still a viable candidate for either the GOP nomination or the general election is a fantasy I don't have time for anymore.

(11) DRJ made the following comment | Jan 10, 2012 9:01:57 PM | Permalink

I completely agree with your analysis of the current candidates and how they view government, but I don't agree Paul Ryan would make a good brokered candidate. He might ... but he would not have been vetted the way the current candidates have been, and Perry is the perfect example of why vetting matters.

(12) Beldar made the following comment | Jan 11, 2012 4:01:16 PM | Permalink

DRJ, your point about vetting is irrefutable. It's an entirely sound (and quite weighty) argument why one ought not wish for the brokered convention scenario.

I still don't know how to account for Gov. Perry's campaign. As I know you'll recall, I was concerned that he'd simply be "too Texan, too soon" — and for some tastes he clearly was. But that's not what explains him dropping from national front-runner to less than 1% last night, and even in New Hampshire, that's just sad. I would have never predicted that he'd shoot so many of his own toes off, and I still can't account for it; nor have I even heard a theory to explain it that I find very plausible.

I do wish he'd come home and tend to business here, though — if for no other reason, for the sake of whatever potential candidates for national office might come from Texas in the future. And there are several of those! We have a strong bench that could well shine nationally if things are allowed to take their course.

(13) Beldar made the following comment | Jan 11, 2012 4:13:29 PM | Permalink

Also: I ought not have used the word "crazy" about Dr. Paul. I don't think he's crazy in any clinical sense, and although he's showing his age a bit and more likely to ramble, I think he still has about the same number of marbles as when I first heard him speak, and spoke with him, in 1974 at a Texas Young Republicans convention at the Hilton Inn on Mockingbird Lane in Dallas. There are quite a few good things I could say, and in various places have said, about Dr. Paul from time to time, and I'm glad he's bringing people into the political dialog who otherwise might not have become involved. In particular I can't help but admire him for his steadfast insistence on the limited nature of the federal government under our Constitution; he's been consistent, but alas, too rarely effective in promoting and upholding those principles, and if he can help bring more voters to understand their importance, that would be by far the greatest accomplishment of his political life.

If he runs as a third-party candidate, though, he's dead to me.

(14) DRJ made the following comment | Jan 12, 2012 12:42:39 PM | Permalink

I think Perry dropped so far because he is inarticulate in a race where the Democratic opponent is viewed as highly articulate, plus he's like Bush only more tongue-tied and headstrong. Obama would love another election in which he can make a bellicose, inarticulate Texan the focus. It's a toxic combination and voters instinctively get it.

I generally trust jurors to come to the right decision in jury trials. Similarly, I trust voters to come to the right decision about candidates and I think they're right about Perry. He's not a good choice for this race.

(15) DRJ made the following comment | Jan 12, 2012 12:53:55 PM | Permalink

I also think Perry started the race poorly by letting issues where he is more moderate (like immigration and Gardasil) dominate his rollout. I think he did this on purpose because he wanted to appeal to more moderate voters and he assumed conservative would go along, but his strength is the conservative base and he disappointed them at the very moment they needed a strong conservative to replace Romney. IMO the base would have been much more forgiving if Perry had focused on solidifying the base before tacking to the middle.

(16) Vader made the following comment | Jan 12, 2012 5:37:05 PM | Permalink

I understand the fear that Romney is, at heart, a technocrat who looks at the government as a tool for solving problems.

However, Romney is also a specialist at taking over management of wobbling enterprises that are in danger of insolvency, and getting them focused on their core business to make them solvent again. You knew that, right? Lately a number of the other Republican candidates have been savaging him for making his fortune that way, which I find disturbing and ironic.

In other words, it is not at all unreasonable to hope that what we will elect will be a President Romney who looks at the federal government as an insolvent enterprise that needs to get focused on its core business so it becomes solvent again. Which is exactly right.

(17) DRJ made the following comment | Jan 12, 2012 8:14:31 PM | Permalink


Romney apparently thought the core business of Massachusetts was mandating universal health care for its residents, which is one reason I'm afraid he will support big government solutions that "fix" America's health care, entitlement, debt and welfare problems. I'm afraid Romney believes his government ideas will fix America's problems better than Obama's, but I don't think government is the answer. That's why I want government to get out of the way.

(18) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Jan 14, 2012 12:14:21 AM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: Who needs acid flashbacks when anyone can read your blog and come across the anagram "Nor Laup?" Suddenly it's 1970, and the twelve year old self is reading Edgar Rice Burroughs's Martian novels, complete with Tars Tarkas, the fifteen foot tall green, four armed Martian. "Nor Laup" is just another formidable Martian...There's a reason your blog is 200 proof delight to read.

For awhile I thought Perry was playing the role GHW Bush played in 1980, i.e. the #2 who gave Reagan some competition with an eye to future nominations and maybe the Veepacy nomination. Consider: Perry is or will be 62 this year. If he isn't going on to be Prez, what's he gonna do? After 11 years, being guv is more likely to be a chore than a delight. If Mitt blows up this fall, 2016 beckons. True he'll be 66 then, but any more that is not a disqualifier. He's also doubtless thinking of the only witty remark GHW is remembered for "Voodoo economics." He doubtless hopes that "vulture capitalist" will be his "voodoo." He has also
read his lessons from the Tim Pawlenty Political School of Getting Out Too Early.

Trouble is Perry is not winning even at GHW's feeble rate. Without that, the cracks are just nasty and alienate Perry from any future with a Romney administration. So why is he, no slouch, doing this? I think the delicious, a word that is only one letter from "delirious" atmosphere of campaigning has made him light headed. It's too bad, because I think Perry had and has a great deal to offer his country. I think many paths have been closed to him, leaving only Texas politics, with a likely finish in 2014.

The same arguments have even less success with Gingrich. There's someone who lives in a permanet delicious/delirious atmosphere. What's bad about that is that atmosphere has poisoned many others e.g. Professor Jacobsen who is taking a sizable pounding for his Romney posts. The pain he's suffering now will be small compared to his morning after in 2013 when he looks at these posts.

I'm not wild for Mitt compared to the howling I did for him in 2008. I did not know enough about Romneycare then. It's a big weakness. But Mitt still has the executive skills which I think will work well for the country. He also seems to have the right notions on foreign affairs (I think this really hurts Gingrich.) I share DRJ's concerns about Mitt as big government enabler by making big government "work" ie.e continue its rapacious growth by delivering services less ineffciently. To that end, I think electing the most conservative Congress possible is in order. That means heaving out such hogs as Don Young of Alaska or Lamar Smith of Texas, who should not be immune just because they have an "R" after their name. It also means I still don't share your enthusiasm for Paul Ryan. In 2012.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(19) Michael made the following comment | Jan 15, 2012 3:32:14 PM | Permalink

If you all would have voted for Bill White for governor this whole Perry embarassment would have been avoided. We would have had a governor and not a double dipping Oops. Let me say that a competent Republican manager like Romney would be a whole lot better than the current leftist provocateur. It'll be intersting how the suit goes aganst his NLRB appointees as an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers. Hopefully, it'll produce some mighty fine whine.

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