Saturday, May 14, 2011

Why Romney's Possible Demise Represents Problems With The Conservative Movement

I am an admirer of Mitt Romney and I will be voting for him in the upcoming primaries. Having said that, I think he has a long struggle ahead of him, much like my Memphis Grizzlies have had in the playoffs this year.

In my view, Romney has been a victim of a political shift within the conservative movement. All of the candidates will have to deal with some of their past "liberal" positions. Tim Pawlenty has already "apologized" for his past support for Cap and Trade. In health care alone, most Republicans who sought to be national candidates in the 90s, will have to shift gears. For example, we know that Newt Gingrich is on record several times saying that he supported federal health care mandates. I am assuming that he doesn't anymore. Ezra Klein has compiled a nice list of all the major Republicans who have supported federal mandates in the 90s. Then there is also national Republicans like DeMint and Santorum, who supported Romney in the past, but who now question his judgment. The shift in political temper has also affected conservative institutions. The Heritage Foundation was one of the biggest proponents of Romney's plan in 2006.  My favorite was Reason Magazine featuring a staunch defense of individual mandates in 2004.

But the times they are a changing. The fortunate thing for all of those conservatives, aside from Romney, is that they didn't have the fortitude of putting into place a plan with individual mandates and then later running for President after the current Democratic President did the same thing.

So what lessons can we learn from Romney's possible demise?

1. Romney is in this position because of the far right's partisan opposition to all things Obama. Today's conservative movement is led by people who have an economic incentive in portraying Barack Obama as a Kenyan socialist from Mars. There is a socially constructed relationship between the Republican base and the talk radio punditry. And it is kind of like the chicken and the egg dilemma. Which came first? A portion of the Republican base believes things that simply aren't true. Rush Limbaugh and Co. saw this and found a great business venture. It is ignorance reinforcing ignorance.

So when Barack Obama came along and adopted formerly Republican principles to his health care plan, the Republican base/talk radio punditry could not for one moment accept the good and reject the bad. They had to oppose everything that that Kenyan socialist wanted. After all, he is trying to destroy America. Folks, this is what I have been preaching about for the past two years. Allowing an entire conservative movement to be run based upon cultural resentment and economic greed by a bunch of fearmongorers is a terrible way to run a political movement. The great majority of Americans are sick of partisan politics. They want a responsible government that addresses the concerns of the majority of Americans. Health care is one of the them.

By the way, just to show you how partisan we have become. I am willing to venture a guess that some of the talk radio lovers here will ridicule me for suggesting that we shouldn't oppose everything that comes out of the mouth of Barack Obama. They are going to ask me why I just don't become a Democrat. The above paragraph is going to sound heretical to them, like I have committed severe blasphemy. They will just prove my point.

2. Problem solving does not matter in the conservative movement. It just doesn't. David Frum, Ezra Klein, and Jonathan Chait have had an interesting debate about this lately. Frum asks when Republicans will start to criticize Pawlenty's record on health care.

A question for Tim Pawlenty at the next Republican debate.

“When you became governor in 2003, Minnesota had under 395,000 citizens without health insurance. In 2008, the last year before the recession struck, Minnesota had 446,000 citizens without health insurance. Do you regard that as an important failure of your administration? If not, why not?”
This question will never be asked in any meaningful way in the minds of the talk radio/Republican base members. As a commenter to Frum's post noted,
Um, in the next Republican debate? Seriously? No Republican cares about that sort of thing.
As long as his answer involves support for “freedom,” reducing government revenues, and opposition to “big government,” his home state could have no one with health insurance and it wouldn’t bother the GOP base of Tea People.
3. Northeastern Republicans can't run for President. I love all of this talk about Chris Christie. I would love to see Christie be the next President of the United States. He won't, because he won't win a Republican nomination. And he knows it. Once the Puritans in the talk radio punditry get a hold of his stances on "gun control, amnesty, the appointment of an Islamist to the bench, the green agenda, his campaigning for Mike Castle, his MIA on health care litigation, etc (hat tip Mark Levin)."

The "conservatism" of the conservative movement is not real. It is only a patchwork of slogans meant to reaffirm the beliefs of white, rural traditionalists who are unsure about how America is changing and who are frustrated with its economic condition. For the most part, it does not address real world needs. The conservatism of William Buckley did address actual issues. The intellectual conservatism of the 1970s and 1980s, and its aftermath of establishment figures in the 90s, was not a sideline cheerleading cadre. Conservatives during that time were players in the game. They sought to reform government and make it more efficient.

Republicans in the Northeast are a dying breed because the populism of Rush Limbaugh has no play there. The moderates and independents in MA are not swayed by how many times a leader repeats the word "freedom" or how many times Republicans call Obama a socialist. They are concerned about not having health care. Conservatism means nothing to them if it can't address that issue. 

I am a frustrated Republican. I can't vote for Democrats because they do believe in big government solutions to problems. The Democratic Party stands for principles that I can't agree with. Yet, I am also watching the conservative movement wither away into an unsustainable bastion of southern and rural cultural reaffirmation. I see it being destroyed by greedy demagogues who could care less about America's future. I painfully understand that without a coalition realignment, the Republican Party is on its way to the proverbial 'serfdom.'

Romney may not be the best for the job. I like Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, etc. But if Romney collapses because of his health care policies, then the conservative movement is in deep trouble, for the reason that I have listed above. I hope that at least Romney's supporters here will begin to see why.


MITT 12 said...

This reminds me a lot of the Romney hit piece in the WSJ. You know, the one the wrote before he gave his health care speech.

There is no Romney demise. Look at the polls. Most people care about jobs and the economy. HC is on the back burner. All this criticism and talk of Romney's demise is just wishful thinking by those who wish their candidate had his credentials and organization ready to get the nomination.

WHO BETTER to fix the economy than the Bain Capital's CEO

Anonymous said...

Pablo, I'm so glad you are back. Great post. Everything you said is spot on.


James Taylor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Taylor said...

You've put my sentiments into words. This is the best and most insightful article I've read this month so far.

Corep said...

i have to say that there is only a perceived small romney blip and only cause we live in a 24 hour news cycle. Come monday when there is a big $$$ number then it will be romney is back .

but Pablo's points are exact in what he says about the right wing extremes and there absolute irrational obsession with Obama. No other way to explain the birther movement imo.

i disagree that a north easterner cannot be elected in the GOP. I think if the focus is on the economy and getting things done then geography doesnt matter at all, you go with substance.

Lastly, The biggest challenge to a Romney presidency is not the general election, its the GOP primary and the calendar. If romney splits the first 4 with another candidate then FL will be the decider. Who do you think does better there a get it done guy or a faction guy? If he loses one of his presumed front 2 NH or NV there would be a problem. Who could prevent those two? Daniels in NH and Huntsman in NV

Pablo said...

Mitt 12,

Notice that I said "possible demise." Surely, you realize that health care is not going to be a winning issue for Mitt in the primaries? I say that as somebody who strongly supports Mitt and his health care policies. The poll numbers mean nothing at this point. Just like Trump a few weeks ago and Rudy Guiliani last time.

Anonymous said...

Corep. huntsman is popular only in his own mind.

MITT 12 said...

"I say that as somebody who strongly supports Mitt and his health care policies."

And in Pablo's post:

"Romney may not be the best for the job. I like Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, etc."

Oh yeh! A strong supporter of Romney.

Pablo said...

Mitt 12,

Please don't misinterpret that. I think that Romney would be the best (or Jeb Bush). But I also like some of the others as well. I am open to the possibility that those other candidates would be good too. When you start believing that your candidate is the only one who can save the world, then you start sounding like C4Palin

Revolution 2012 said...

I don't think Romney's latest criticism is representative of the SILENT MAJORITY.

It's more representative of the loudest few who are under the illusion that most people care about what the have to say..

GetReal said...

Mitt 12,
Pablo is (and has been) a strong Romney supporter and a definite asset to our side.

I for one could happily and enthusiastically support any of the other people he listed if Romney doesn't get the nomination. I prefer Romney, but I think he's our best hope, not our only hope.