I’ve argued many times that the politician Mitt Romney most closely resembles is John Kerry, primarily due to the Mittster’s legendary penchant for flip-flopping, a trait Kerry is also known for. I stand by my Kerry comparison, but Jonah Goldberg has an excellent point when he compares Romney to another Massachusetts politician: Michael Dukakis.
Meanwhile, the Republicans seem to have become Dukakified. It was Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, who insisted that the election should be entirely about “competence, not ideology.” Romney has avoided saying that in so many words, but it’s certainly how he’s campaigning. After running to the right in the primaries and boldly picking Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney bizarrely seems to have retreated to an ideological and even intellectual crouch.
Though he doesn’t say it explicitly, the tone and tenor of Romney’s convention speech suggested that Obama failed because didn’t have the right resume, not because he has the wrong ideas. Stuart Stevens, Romney’s top strategist, has dismayed many on the right by operating according to the theory that Romney mustn’t do anything to offend the delicate sensibilities of some statistical abstraction of a female voter in the Ohio suburbs. Listening to the Romney speech, you’d have no idea he picked a principled, fearless, and brilliant conservative lightning rod as a running mate.
If Stevens’s theory of the election is right, then the GOP convention was brilliantly executed. But that is a huge gamble — as huge as Obama’s bet that Americans have moved left. Right now, however, it looks too much like a contest between people with the wrong ideas against people without any.
My hat’s off to Jonah Goldberg. I never equated Romney to Dukakis, but the more I think about it, the more appropriate the comparison becomes. Like Romney, Dukakis is a former governor of the deep blue state of Massachusetts. Both are adherents to the technocratic approach to government in which the beneficence of the government bureaucrat plays a central role (see Romneycare). 59-point plans, which are nothing more than Keynesian big government boondoggles to conservatives, are utopia for technocrats and the armies of bureaucrats required to administer them.
To listen to his "Obama’s a nice guy who’s in over his head" speeches, Romney’s primary objection to Obama is not that government shouldn’t do what Obama wants it to do, but that Obama is an incompetent manager. While that may be true, the biggest problem with Obama is not competence, but his radical ideology: he wants to transform American into another bankrupt, European-style welfare state where government inexorably grows at the expense of individual freedoms. But Romney and his "Dukakified" campaign won’t even bring this up for fear of offending someone.
Political ideology — having consistent views and ideas based on core convictions — is viewed as a liability by the Mittster, whose only discernible conviction is his desire to be president. Other than that self-aggrandizing conviction, though, Mitt goes out of his way to avoid any others. He finds them confining, for lack of a better word. If he had a consistent ideology, how could he tell Massachusetts voters upon his election as governor that he was a moderate with progressive views while later describing his gubernatorial tenure as "severely conservative" to a CPAC audience. (Romneycare, presumably, is evidence of his severe conservatism). It’s liberating to lack a consistent ideology, I guess.
Much has been made of Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan to be his running mate. But one gets the feeling the Mittster was just checking a box; that he selected Ryan not because he shared Ryan’s deep ideological commitment to fixing the nation’s finances, but because he needed to keep conservatives interested in his milquetoast campaign. But simply picking a conservative running mate is insufficient to assuage conservative concerns. He must actually embrace Ryan’s conservative positions.
Nearly two years ago, Governor Palin became the first national conservative leader to endorse the Ryan Roadmap — to date the only specific plan to eliminate the deficit put forward by anyone. Romney has yet to endorse that plan, insisting he’ll come up with his own at some point in the future. Mitt’s been running for president for a decade. When will he come up with a plan? I doubt he ever will because he’d run the risk of offending "the delicate sensibilities of some statistical abstraction of a female voter in the Ohio suburbs" as Goldberg notes above.
Romney prefers caution and inaction to bold action, defense to offense, and amorphous vagaries to concrete ideas. He says he’ll repeal Obamacare, but won’t tell us how. He says he’ll reform the entitlement plans before they inevitably go bankrupt, but, again, won’t say how. It’s as if he’s psychologically incapable of taking a consistent position on an issue and defending it. Whether this is due to his lack of core convictions or his lack of a backbone is anyone’s guess. In any event, he’s simply running out the clock and hoping to avoid making a mistake. But if the election were held today, he’d lose. A prevent defense can only work if you’re ahead. And even then it often doesn’t work. (Ask the Cleveland Browns.)
Although there are similarities to the campaign Romney’s running today and the one Dukakis ran in 1988, the political envorinment was starkly different. In 1988, Dukakis ran a distinctly non-ideological campaign because he had no other choice. Both the 1980 and 1984 campaigns were ideological in nature, and liberalism suffered historic defeats. With Bush 41 running on Reaganism and effectively promising voters a "third" Reagan term, Dukakis would have had zero chance if he ran as a liberal. The Carter-Mondale years were still fresh in the minds of voters, and they were in no mood to return to those dark days of malaise. In short, voters were happy with the way the country was being run under Reagan, and didn’t want to return to liberalism.
But Romney has a choice. Voters have witnessed the devastation unfettered liberalism inflicts on an economy. Obama has seen to that. This is the best opportunity Republicans have had to mount an ideological campaign since 1980.
Unfortunately, however, the GOP Establishment, in their infinite wisdom, chose a candidate who appears incapable of advancing or even explaining conservatism; a candidate who prefers to avoid the possibility of offending some moderate in a swing state rather than inspiring him (or her) to rally to the conservative cause as Reagan did. For this reason, Romney effectively banned the Tea Party from his convention. Last week I predicted this would backfire and result in a smaller post-convention bounce, and that whatever small bounce Romney did receive would quickly fade in response to Obama’s bounce. Today’s Real Clear Politics polling averages bear this out. His approval rating, at 49.2% and rising, is the highest it’s been since the bin Laden raid, and dangerously close to that magic 50% number.
Obama’s surge in approval ratings is mirrored by his improvement in the horse race numbers with Mitt Romney. This is also from this afternoon’s RCP average.
Whatever momentum Romney was riding is long gone, and Team Mitt had better figure out how to generate enthusiasm — real, sustainable grass roots enthusiasm — for his campaign. Clearly his policy of ignoring Tea Party conservatives isn’t working. If he sticks to his DC insider, consultant-approved "Obama’s a nice but incompetent guy" routine, I don’t see how he turns these numbers around.
The fact is, Obama’s not a nice guy. He’s a narcissistic left-wing ideologue with a chip on his shoulder who’s hell bent on transforming America into something unrecognizable, a guy who’ll do anything, including flouting the constitution, to secure another four years so he can complete that transformation. And Romney considers him a nice guy? Ideologues can only be defeated with ideology, not platitudes designed to offend the least amount of people. Conservative ideas work every time they’re tried, liberal ideas do not, as the past four years make crystal clear. If we can’t make the conservative case in this economic environment, when can we?
The debates offer an opportunity for Romney to gain ground but, unlike in the primary debates, Mitt won’t have Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann around to jump to his defense every time he’s on the ropes. Goldberg’s point, I think, is that if voters aren’t given an alternative, the devil they know may well be preferable to the devil they don’t know. Ideas, even bad ones, trump no ideas. If the Romney brain trust, such as it is, doesn’t figure this out, and quickly, we’re in for another four long years of misery. Unfortunately, by that time it may be too late to prevent America from suffering a Greece-style collapse.
Update: (h/t xthred) Shocker: Romney indicated today that he won’t repeal all of Obamacare:
Mitt Romney says his pledge to repeal President Barack Obama’s health law doesn’t mean that young adults and those with medical conditions would no longer be guaranteed health care.
The Republican presidential nominee says he’ll replace the law with his own plan. He tells NBC’s "Meet the Press" that the plan he worked to pass while governor of Massachusetts deals with medical conditions and with young people.
Romney says he doesn’t plan to repeal of all of Obama’s signature health care plan. He says there are a number of initiatives he likes in the Affordable Care Act that he would keep in place if elected president.
So Romney wants to keep the preconditions coverage guarantee part of Obamacare. I have one simple question: Suppose I decide to eschew Homeowner’s insurance. If I do that can I expect an insurance company to insure my home after it catches on fire?
Hello, Mr. Insurance provider. My house is on fire. I’d like to purchase an insurance policy effective right now to pay for this fire which is raging out of control and burning my house down. No? But you have no choice. Both Romney and Obama say you must.
Can anyone explain to me how this is insurance, and how insurance providers can possibly stay in business under this mandate? Anyone?