Sunday, October 16, 2011

Multi-Definitional Mitt

It's a liberal! It's a moderate! It's a RINO! It's a conservative!
It's Mitt Romney! Rarely, if ever, in the history of U.S. presidential politics has a candidate been defined in such a variety of ways. His detractors often define him as anything but conservative, while many of his supporters believe he will accomplish more of the conservative agenda than any other candidate. Who is correct? Is there validity to each argument?

For and Against

Those pushing the view that he is anything but conservative make a compelling argument. RomneyCare, protecting a woman's right to choose, support of gay rights, suggestions that man-made global warming may be real--these, and more, are evidence of a candidate who is anything but conservative.

Supporters, on the other hand, make the case that RomneyCare is better than what liberals would have implemented, that Romney is now committed to life, that same-sex marriage was not the focus it is now and he's against it, that he believes government has no business supporting green initiatives--and the arguments go on.

Yet another school of thought suggests that Romney has held differing opinions on many issues of national importance. The premise is that changes in stances indicate a lack of core values, that he will alter positions on the basis of prevailing political sentiment. Given the diverse stances listed above, it would not be unreasonable to come to such a conclusion and to question the extent to which he could be trusted to pursue conservative policies in office.

Yes, these are the ways in which Mitt Romney, the candidate for president, is defined. No wonder supporters and detractors argue on and on. With so much evidence out there, it's not difficult to make one's case for either side. Perhaps his biggest political blunder has been to allow multiple definitions of himself to be made. The question now is whether these differing definitions are reconcilable. Affirmative, but not by pushing any of the above definitions. Instead, we must venture deep into his thought process and what the realities were at different points in time.

Back in Time

Let's travel back in time to Massachusetts in the early 2000s. We are in, arguably, the most liberal state in the union. Republicans are second-class citizens and are in the extreme minority. They are ridiculed. They are looked upon with suspicion. Conservative Republicans have it even worse. They rarely have the opportunity to be elected, serve, and make a difference.

This is the headquarters of the Kennedy empire. Ted Kennedy at that time is still an icon. During a time of significant financial difficulty, Mitt is elected governor to see if he can fix things. What he does, how he governs is very closely monitored. His decisions will influence not only his own record, but will impact the ability of the party to get people elected in the future. Try to be too conservatively cute and you blow the Republican Party's chances in future elections.

Why didn't Mitt simply move from Massachusetts to a conservative state and run for governor there? Utah would have been an excellent option. There he would have had the opportunity to push, pass, and sign all manner of conservative initiatives and become another conservative face in the conservative crowd. He could have done so with one hand tied behind his back. He could have governed without even breaking a sweat.

Conservatism Where? Multiple Fronts

The cause of conservatism, of conservative values, must be fought on multiple fronts, not just in conservative states. Do we surrender states such as Massachusetts or do we jump in and fight for what we believe is vital for the country, both locally and at the national level? There are three fronts, each with a major objective:
  • Conservative states: take such actions, pass such legislation, and stay on message so as to maintain conservative values and keep liberalism from creeping in
  • Purple states: put forward the most qualified and electable truly conservative candidates, convince the undecided and the open-minded of the benefits of, and need for, conservative values, help the state become more conservative step by step, both in terms of mindset as well as in legislative terms
  • Liberal states: keep the state from gravitating even further to the left, communicate and demonstrate the attractiveness of conservative principles, get competent people in office who bring more to the table than just ideology, who can add value to the state to demonstrate that liberalism is not the only game in town
Leaders are needed on all three fronts. Governing in states that are already conservative is probably the easiest and most straightforward of the three tasks. A cooperative legislature, cooperative voters, a somewhat cooperative media can keep governing somewhat on auto-pilot. On the other hand, battling in a liberal state is full of pitfalls, challenges, and risks.

Liberal Minefield

Keeping a liberal state from gravitating further leftward is likely a tougher proposition than keeping the status quo in a conservative state. How did Mitt do? Here are two of many examples:
  • Massachusetts wanted a more liberal, European-like, single-payer, government-run health care system. Mitt used his abilities to drive bi-partisan production and implementation of a health-care system significantly less liberal, i.e. more conservative than what was originally demanded.
  • Massachusetts wanted easier access to abortion. Mitt, who had promised to protect the existing laws allowing choice did just that: maintained what was already on the books. However, he vetoed every bit of legislation that came his way that would have resulted in a shift leftward, i.e. easier access. He kept his promise to voters, while fighting for conservative values.
Additionally, he wisely threw the left the occasional bone, e.g. passing out flyers at a gay-pride parade. By doing so, he demonstrated that a Republican governor can care for all constituents, even those with whom he may disagree on the issues. Taking such steps may seem anti-conservative to outsiders. But, such small steps help set the stage for future Republican candidates to get elected and have their opportunity to keep the state from moving even further to the left. You can't govern if you can't get elected.

Going Home

Once free from his duties as governor, Mitt was excited to jump into the 2008 Republican race. He was confident he'd be accepted into the national conservative fold and was looking forward to demonstrating and discussing conservative issues and ideals. It would take some time, however, to become "fluent" in conservative speak and conservative cultural cues, having been away from that world most of his adult life. It could be compared to an American living abroad, spending most of his time speaking a foreign language, and returning to the States with perfectly fluent English, but missing just a bit of vocabulary and in the vernacular. Other conservatives were understandably suspicious of this former governor of the liberal state of Massachusetts. The more he tried to convince them of his conservative credentials, the more there was push back in the opposite direction. Rather than give up, he came back strong for 2012, having learned valuable lessons on how to communicate and where he stood in the eyes of voters.

Returning back to the multiple definitions of Mitt Romney, we can better understand why different people see him differently. It's not that there is a right or wrong when it comes to defining Mitt and how he would govern as president. Rather, it's understanding how he managed to operate in an atmosphere politically hostile to conservatives. It's also about understanding that we need leaders capable of succeeding on behalf of conservatism in more than just one type of political environment, who can take it on the chin, and come back more determined than ever to serve the country by getting conservative ideals implemented nationally.

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GetReal said...

Wow, really liked this one, hamaca! First JohnG posts again, now you are posting - good times for this site.

hamaca said...

Thanks, GetReal. Yes, the more, the merrier!

Ian said...

Excellent post hamaca. It really puts into perspective Romney's unique position.

Doug NYC GOP said...

Very fine job bringing the issues into focus against the backdrop of governing in a hostile envirionment.

Nice job Hamaca!

Noelle said...

Thank you for that insightful post, hamaca. Very interesting and well done.

hamaca said...

Thanks Ian. Yes, in Romney's case, there's a lot of comparing apples to oranges going on.

hamaca said...

Thanks Doug. I've thought it would be an interesting exercise to consider how the candidates would do in fighting for conservative stances in states significantly different from their own.

After all, as president, they'd need to be dealing with hostile factions in one way or another.

Ohio JOE said...

While I disagree with some aspects of this article, it was well written and a good read to boot. You brought up many interesting points. For the record, while I am in the anti-Romney camp, I admit that Mr. Romney is no liberal in absolute terms. In fact if he were running for Prime Minister of Canada or some European country, many (not all)Conservatives would embrace him with open arms realizing that he is the best we can hope for. However, I think we can do better in America especially when there are candidate who are at least further to the Right of him.

No doubt, the Romney camp is quite diverse. On the one hand there are people like you (Hamaca,) Noelle and AZ who are essentially quite Conservative. In fact AZ is to the right of extremist like me on a few issues. On the other hand, Craigs and Pablo are almost uncomfortable being members of a Conservative Party. Then we have a variey of in between mainstream Conservatives in the Romney camp. Diversity is not a bad thing in and of itself. My own camp is a bit more diverse than both friend and foe would like to admit. Any successful camp, party or political movement needs to have diversity.

Many in the Romney camp argrue that they are essentially Pro-Life and Socially Conservative, but that they want to be pragmatic and diplomatic about it. They are that while they are not Capitalists on steroids, they generally do favor capitalistic programs. And many also say that while they are Pro-Defence, there is no need to sound like War-mongers. On one hand, these are fair points, just because Mr. Romney and his camp are soft-spokken, does not in and of itself mean that they are liberals or even Moderates. On the other hand, this is America after all, and we really should not have to hide or downplay our Conservatives. Further, many Conservatives are in no mood for somebody soft spoken especially after seeing our economy being destroyed by a bunch of Leftists who are anything but soft spoken. We want fire being fought with fire especially because we have seen the serious consequences of failure to fight fire with fire.

Ohio JOE said...

Further, on a side note, I tried to reply to somebody else, but could not due to computer trouble. There is a Romneyite guy named David who posts quite frequently on another site. I won't say which one of the many Daves and Davids he is. I particularly admire his intellect. He has an answer for everything and he is willing to debate and discuss with anybody.

About a week or so ago, he pleade with non-Romneyite Conservatives to either join his camp or at least vote for him in the general election. He said that to a small degree, he actually understood why many of his fellow Conservative either did not trust Mr Romney and/or did not feel that he was Conservative enough. He asked us to take confort in the fact that Conservative Republicans control Congress and while he admited there were a few liberals in his camp, he tried to assure us that the majority of his camp was essentially Conservative. Thus while he himself believed that Mr. Romney was ideologically rather Conservative, he argued that there were enough Conservatives in places where they could be a check and balance against a Mr. Romney who might drift to the left.

Well, it is a rather good arguement and I will sit back and see how true this arguement might be. In short, in part because Mr. Romney is either moving to the right or wishing to attract Right-Wing voters recently, I am a little more open to voting for him in the general election than I had been. However, I must respectfully say that even though I might even support him in the primary if the cookie crumbles in a funny, I cannot consider myself a Romneyite and I cannot see myself joining the Romney camp. I would simply not be true to myself. I am more content to be in a camp without a camp leader at this point. I realize that a Right-Wing extremists like me will not get all of what he wants, but I do want a piece of the political pie before I even vote for somebody. I want no favors from any candidate, I just want political, economic and religious freedom and I just want somebody to promote that.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, OJ for acknowledging that some of us are conservatives! That is all I asked from you.

I enjoyed your comment from David. I agree with what he said. I actually can understand some of the challenges that face other voters--I simply have less tolerance for the flip-flop thing, when studies have shown that it is often used to cover up how people really feel about his religion. There is no evidence to show that he has flip-flopped MORE than the other GOP candidates--who actually have a record, that is. Obama had almost no real voting record; we could believe anything we wanted about him, and look at how that has turned out. A record is at least helpful information, although it is important to recognize what type of political-power mix each candidate dealt with, as well.

I found myself reluctant to support McCain when he was the nominee; he has been my Senator for almost half of my life, and I am very familiar with him. I had no desire to vote for him again, but he was who I was stuck with. Even the choice of Palin did not inspire me to give money, knock on doors, or any of the things voters do who feel more passionately about their candidate. Of course, a good VP pick can help inspire more confidence in a candidate, as well.

One thing I pretty much count on in Romney is his practical view of what can be done. I believe he will do whatever he can to be more fiscally responsible and revive the private sector, but having a conservative Congress will help move that agenda forward. In Massachusetts, the legislature is NOT conservative, and they had the power to override Romney's veto, which they very often did. I know that people don't believe it, but the Romney administration pushed back against the status quo frequently in Mass.


hamaca said...

Thanks Noelle--I appreciate your comment.

hamaca said...


I enjoyed your thoughts and insights. Interesting points about diversity in the various camps. In fact, what you wrote overall deserves to be a front-page post itself!