Friday, February 3, 2012

The Romney Paradox

Conservatives --everywhere-- are suddenly a little bit nervous about Mitt Romney. Firstly, he's certainly gaffe prone but then, he's really nowhere near "Joe Biden-level" gaffe prone. Secondly, he's, well, kinda 'wooden.' Oh, he's thin, handsome, and has good hair--he's ready for Disney's Hall of Presidents--but maybe, you know, without needing a robotic model! Slate is trying to figure out if he's more like Gore or more like Kerry in personal charisma: neither is good!

For being the electoral-version of The Terminator he sure does make some mistakes. What was he thinking taking Donald Trump's endorsement (that article calls it his biggest blunder!)? He wins big in Florida but his most-negative-campaign ever seems to have a cost ...

Screen shot 2012-02-02 at 10.22.25 AM

And he, you know, he put the dog on his car's roof. That thing.

No, the problem is what observers are starting to see as a pattern behind the gaffes. It's like looking at the shadow of an object you can't see: you can infer a lot about the size and shape of it ... and the size and shape of it isn't good: it's that Mitt Romney isn't actually a conservative.

How Can That Be?
The problem is that when he's caught off guard his instinctive response is go straight to moderate or even progressive talking points.
Here: Romney's comment went to the core of the difference between what I believe as a conservative and what the class warrior in chief in the White House believes, and Romney wound up in the wrong camp.
And Here: I am afraid supporting Mitt Romney will undo a lot of the repairs made to the conservative movement in the past few years. Already people are defending inherently not conservative ideas by calling them conservative. Already people are too willing to keep their mouth shut to do no harm to the party and, in the process, are doing harm to the intellectual capital built up within the conservative movement.
Ann Coulter’s defense of Romneycare, released on the same day Romney rejected years of conservative arguments against the social safety net and the welfare state, is a canary in the coal mine. We are returning to that point where the voters decided they could no longer trust conservatives to be principled.
And here: “This is bad,” conservative columnist and commentator Charles Krauthammer said Wednesday night on Fox News Channel’s “Special Report.” “The real problem here is that he doesn’t have a fluency with conservative ideas. … The moral case for conservative economics is that our policies are going to help everybody, including the poor.”
And a lot of other places too. Newt Gingrich said he didn't want to give the poor a safety net--but rather a trampoline. That's the canonical conservative response.

The Romney Paradox
How can the guy who is most electable (most "electable"?) not be fluent with conservative ideas? The answer is pretty darn simple, really: the reason Romney is where he is as "the most electable" is because he is not especially fluent with conservative ideas. For those not paying attention: that was the whole point.

Now, that doesn't mean the whole "idea" of electability isn't flawed. Obama wasn't "electable" until he was, erm, elected. Reagan was famously less-than-electable until he got on that stage with Jimmy Carter and shone like a movie star. So let's back up and ask what "electable" means anyway.

Basically it means the person in question can: (a) bring their own party and (b) reach out to the necessary (and squishy) middle of independents and moderates. This will build the 51% electoral vote coalition (when backed by a sufficiently advanced campaign) to win the White House.

In yester-year bringing your own party meant having that 'R' or 'D' after your name--but today, for the Republicans it means something else: it means you have to (maybe) bring the Tea Party insurgency.

That's what this primary is trying to figure out: how do you bring "the party" and still win moderates and independents--if that's even possible. That is why, for example, you see Ann Coulter tying herself into knots to defend RomneyCare. She knows that Romney is the likely candidate and probably the best chance to beat Obama--but she also knows that universal health care of any stripe is dangerous ground for conservative ideology ("Let Him Die!").

The problem is that for the last poll data I could find the Tea Party is as popular as strychnine. This means that anyone who appeals to them may have problems in the general (note: Perry was one of those exceptions--and he had other problems). Mitt Romney, a reasonably popular blue-state governor is not going to be the kind of guy who naturally and comfortably carries a lot of water for the Tea Party.

If you are a Tea Party Romney voter ... how did you not see that coming?

But Is He Electable?
 Yes, of course he is. If Obama--a Junior Senator with no record and a middle name of Hussein was electable then anyone is. Romney especially. Even if he put a whole huskies team on his roof. But will he win? That's a harder question. Can he win the primary? Maybe--but, again, it will depend on moderates in the Republican Party. The hard core Tea Party base has no real business voting for him save for Realpolitik.

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