Confessions of a Reluctant Romney Supporter

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I haven’t written much of anything about the GOP primary contest, despite the fact I have been following it closely, in part because I found myself so incredibly dissatisfied with all the candidates. However, as the field narrows and appears to be actually competitive, and various people I respect line up behind candidates, it seemed like it was time to come out of the closet as something I’m not very enthusiastic about being: a Romney supporter.

This is not because I’m particularly fond of Romney. I don’t trust him a great deal, I’m not clear how solid any of his principles are other than his conviction that he should be president, and I don’t find him particularly inspiring. As various candidates have had their five minutes of popularity for the achievement of not being Romney, I kept hoping that one of them would manage to pull ahead and show some stature. I was particularly hopeful about Rick Perry, but he just didn’t seem able to run a campaign.

So why support Romney?

I’ll start with the positive. While I’m not enthusiastic about Romney, I think that most of what the GOP needs in order to oust Obama this year is simply a credible alternative who doesn’t scare people too much. Given how bad the economy is and how unpopular some elements of his policy have been, “not Obama” can be a solidly popular candidate by that virtue alone. In this regard, I think Romney’s blandness may actually be an asset — especially as it’s combined with very solid verbal abilities which should be able to stack up well against Obama on stage. Romney is also a company man. He is a consultant through and through, and since right now I actually trust the party more than I trust any of the candidates, I actually prefer the fact that Romney is likely to be guided fairly efficiently by the party establishment and the establishment advisers. I’d rather have a solid candidate, able to guide by his own vision, but lacking that I’d at least like to have an able executive willing to be guided by the right advisers.

That’s about as positive as my feelings get. Now for the negative approach. There are at most four candidates at this point: Romney, Gingrich, Santorum and Ron Paul. Ron Paul I consider wrong pretty much from beginning to end. Santorum actually strikes me as a strongly principled social conservative, and in some ways I do like him, but I just don’t see him as having the executive presence to lead the nation or to succeed against Obama onstage. Maybe in a fairer world he would be a good candidate, but in the world we’re in I just don’t think he’d stand a chance of winning. I have some fond memories around Gingrich and the Contract With America, since that’s a period when I was first enthusiastically tracking politics as a teenager. However, Gingrich himself flamed out badly and hurt the Republican party in the ’90s. His personal life shows him as being even less trustworthy. He’s got strong combative instincts, and at times it’s fun to imagine him going head to head with Obama on stage, but his combative instincts also apply to opening fire on his own foot. Often. With Gingrich as the nominee, the GOP would be “living in interesting times” in the very worst sense of that ancient curse. And even if he could win, I wouldn’t trust Gingrich any more as president of the US than the last GOP president to have come back from utter political defeat and exile: Richard M. Nixon.

It frustrates me no end that there aren’t better candidates out there in a year in which Obama should be an easy target, and even at this late date if someone better came along than Romney I’d be happy to switch to someone better, but in the current state of the race Romney seems to me like the best one.

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  1. I think Romney has a glass jaw Darwin. Of all the Republican candidates, except for Ron Paul (R. Pluto), I think he stands the best chance of being beaten by Obama. He gives every sign of conducting the same lifeless, passive campaigns that Dole and McCain ran. Your support of Romney also typifies Romney’s problem: even his supporters are very tepid about him. I will vote for him if he is the nominee, but the only reason I can think for doing so is that he would be the Not Obama in the race. This year that may be enough, but that is a frail reed to base an election on.

  2. Yeah, I guess my fear is that Gingrich will on alternate days have a nitroglycerine jaw and no jaw at all. Heck, if we were okay with a flaky philanderer for our nominee why couldn’t we stick with Herman Cain? At least he didn’t have the bad congressional history and we could have pizza at all the campaign events.

    If Santorum were the one polling equal to or above Romney, and if either Santorum or Gingrich weren’t doing a lot worse in the general election polling, I’d be moderately happy to support Santorum. But although I’d reluctantly support Gingrich if he wins the nomination (which is perhaps more than I could say for Ron Paul) I have to admit I’d prefer Romney at the top of the ticket to Gingrich. (Kind of the way I supported Dole over Buchanan.)

  3. Gingrich’s personal life is despicable, at least it was during his first two marriages. However thus far in this campaign he has shown a talent for coming back from the political dead, twice, and going off the script. The script I am referring to is that Republican candidates are supposed to be deferential to a media that despises them and their supporters, and that they are supposed to adopt a defensive crouch towards their ideological adversaries. I fear that is a script that Romney will faithfully follow if he is the nominee. I would much prefer it if Santorum were the one with a chance of beating Romney, but I think that ship has not only sailed, but sunk.

  4. Now I think about it, I think my preference is based on one other expectation: Obama is clearly going to run one of the most viciously negative campaigns in recent memory. There will be no more of the hopey changey drivel we got last time — even his own base doesn’t believe it any more. So instead we’ll get one of the lowest and nastiest campaigns ever.

    There are, I guess, two ways to go after that. One is to put in someone like Gingrich who will fight back tooth and nail. The other is to go for someone like Romney who will try to do the teflon routine and brush it off with a, “You’re saying that because you’re a failure. Now are we going to move on and get the economy together or are we going to focus on looking for scapegoats for the next four years?”

    My instinct is that the latter will work better — though my crystal ball is no more functional than any other, so we’ll see what happens.

  5. I’ve been pleased by how much emotion I’ve seen in the past couple of weeks. The line on 2012 was that it was going to be uninspiring, but people have suddenly become passionate about the race. And it’s still nine months away.

  6. We are in agreement on the type of campaign Obama will run. We disagree on the best response to it. If Romney goes with the “above it all” routine he will be lucky if all of his kids vote for him as he goes down in flames. Negative campaigning is effective, and being passive to it is normally a one way ticket to political oblivion.

  7. As to the feeling that the choices were weak this time around, I think that both Clinton and W did a poor job of developing the farm team. Reagan did a great job in that area, making appointments and supporting candidates who went on to become leaders. It’s not just about the so-called “team of rivals”, which doesn’t necessarily work anyway (it didn’t even work particularly well for Lincoln). It’s also about giving the rookies a chance to shine. During the past year people have been talking about their list of candidates who didn’t run (Palin, Rubio, Christie, etc.). A lot of those names are newbies. The reason that newbies are getting so much attention is because there isn’t a strong group of established politicians, the people who would have been newbies 10-20 years ago.

  8. Romney consistently polls best against Obama in head to head match-ups, he has better favorable/unfavorable ratings than Gingrich, his implied electability on Intrade is higher, and of course he doesn’t have Newt’s history of blow-ups. Why anyone would think Gingrich is more likely to beat Obama is beyond me.

    If Jeb Bush or Mitch Daniels got in I would be thrilled. But I don’t see that happening.

  9. “Why anyone would think Gingrich is more likely to beat Obama is beyond me.”

    Because he knows how to attack BA rather than to simply stand there and be a punching bag which seems to be Romney’s chief political skill. That and attempting to run to the left of his Democrat adversaries on social issues, which is a tactic he employed in both 1994 and 2002. Of course, now he is a changed man. (At least until the next shift in the political wind.)

    If pre-election polls were the determinging factor in who should be the Republican candidate than George Bush should have been the nominee instead of Reagan in 1980, since he normally polled stronger against Carter. As a matter of fact, Carter polled 10 points ahead of Reagan in the poll taken just before the October 28 Reagan-Carter debate when Reagan aggressively mopped the floor with Carter. Reagan went on to win by nine points. The rejoinder is that Gingrich is no Reagan. True, although Reagan was no Reagan until he put away a President he had trailed in almost all the polls the entire year.

  10. I could understand holding one’s nose and voting for Romney in the General Election because one sees him as the better of two bad alternatives. I disagree with it, and won’t do it myself, but I understand it.

    But I just cannot understand actually supporting him in the primary. Fortunately, Darwin, Sarah and I will be more than happy to cancel out your vote in the Ohio Primary.


  11. Romney consistently polls best against Obama in head to head match-ups, he has better favorable/unfavorable ratings than Gingrich, his implied electability on Intrade is higher, and of course he doesn’t have Newt’s history of blow-ups. Why anyone would think Gingrich is more likely to beat Obama is beyond me.

    That’s basically my thinking. If there was a candidate out there who I thought people would love if only they could get a better look at him, I’d be happy to support someone on that basis who didn’t yet poll well. But other three who have made it this far I like even less than Romney. Which is what leaves me supporting him.

  12. Drew over at Drew Musings explains why he is backing Gingrich:

    “In the end, I’ve settled on Newt Gingrich.

    It’s been a long journey and the final choice I’ve come to represents a compromise on my ideal choice to fight the battle against Barack Obama.

    Originally I wanted a bland conservative who was plausible to most voters as a reasonable option to be President. I wanted the election to be a referendum on Obama with the GOP offering a solid, if not spectacular alternative. A Sanford/Pawlenty/Daniels type would have kept the focus where it belonged…on Obama.

    Some will argue that Romney is in this mold. I don’t think so. His wealth and more importantly his lack of basic political skills makes him to easy for Democrats (Obama, pundits and “reporters’) to caricature. He simply hasn’t shown the ability to take a bunch and drive the narrative.

    Failing that I figured we’d have a battle of ideas. If we can’t make it about Obama, then we damn well needed a big time personality to make the most pro-conservative case possible. I saw Christie and Perry as the best options for this kind of fight. Sadly, Christie didn’t run and Perry was simply incapable of carrying the fight to anyone, let alone Obama.

    Again, some will say that Romney could do this. His lack of conservative accomplishments, his record of bashing long held conservative beliefs and his lousy political skills (he can’t sell capitalism to GOP primary voters!), make the idea of Romney The Ideological Warrior a joke.

    That leaves us with the fight we have…going toe-to-toe with Obama in a long, hard, slog. It’s going to be hard to unseat a sitting President under the best of conditions and this election isn’t going to be that. What Newt brings to the table is what a heavyweight fighter always brings to the ring…a puncher’s chance. No, Newt isn’t going to win the election with a big line at a debate but over the course of a 6-8 month fight, Newt will land plenty of big blows on Obama on policy, record and rhetorical grounds. That combination will generate something that was missing for the GOP last time… real excitement in the base. The question is will he be able to pick up enough swing voters along the way? I think (hope) there are enough that are fed up with the bill of goods Obama sold them last time that Newt can make Obama too unattractive to support again while seeming to be a reasonable option himself.

    Gingrich will take a lot of shots in return but unlike Romney, he’s shown over and over again an ability to get back up and start swinging again. Yes, Newt’s been knocked out before and fought some losing fights but if he’s going to go down to Obama, he’s going to bloody him on the way out. He just might be able to knock Obama out before he falls himself.

    I just don’t see on what grounds Romney has any policy or political advantage over Obama.

    It’s not an ideal way to fight this battle but I think Newt’s way is the best chance we have.”

  13. I agree with Darwin. I do enjoy Newt’s combativeness, but his most recent debate response regarding Marianne’s interview was nothing more than an egotistical outburst that bordered on pathological. It is exceedingly difficult to listen to and unpack this statement and still believe that Newt has any true remorse for his callous behavior. I fear he is not only an egomaniac of the highest order, but he is horribly deficient when it comes to basic human empathy. And his ideas are half-baked. Some may be worth baking to completion, others plainly not, but he lacks the patience to drill down and finish the job. I’d still probably vote for him over Obama.

    Santorum’s principled social conservatism is admirable and attractive. I think he is also a genuinely decent man. Unfortunately, I think he is not only unelectable, he is also incapable of effectively governing a nation that sadly does not share his his passion on social issues. That would take a leader with with exceptional persuasive abilities, and I don’t see that in Santorum.

    Paul is just weird. Deep inside I do think he still worries about the Trilateral Commission and is only partially convinced that 9/11 wasn’t an inside job.

    Romney is more technician than idealogue, which is why he is so at sea when it comes to articulating abstract ideas and his own beliefs. I think he governed center-left in a hard left state, and I think he would govern center-right in a center-right nation. I do think he would appoint conservative judges, though perhaps not as reliably conservative as Santorum.. I also think that Romney is a decent man and an adult who is capable of self-restraint and self-discipline, something I don’t think applies to Gingrich. Like Darwin, I am comfortable supporting Romney, even if not enthusiastic.

  14. And that’s why the GOP establishment will keep shoving guys like Romney down our throats … because we’ve proven time and again that we’ll throw over good, decent pro-life candidates like Santorum and, in the end, support whatever pro-abort RINO stiff gets the nomination.

    Please don’t take the foregoing as a harsher criticism than what it is meant to be. But it is frustrating for me to see a couple of gentlemen for whom I have the utmost respect and with whose poltical instincts I generally concur, take this line.

  15. No worries, Jay. I appreciate your frustration and admit that my calculus could be incorrect. Basically, my number one issue is abortion specifically and life generally. That said, trying to advance that agenda involves more than simply identifying the candidate whose believes are most in accord with mine. More precisely it involves identifying the candidate who is most likely to actually make progress on this issue, and that is a function not only of my assessment of (i) his priorities and beliefs but also my assessment of (ii) his likely efficacy. While I think Santorum is considerably stronger on (i), I think Romney is much stronger on (ii), especially since I do not think Santorum can defeat Obama in November. I am very much a pragmatist. I have little interest in supporting a candidate who I believe would work hard to advance the pro-life cause if I think he will neither really get that opportunity nor would be able to be successful if he did. My gut tells me that a Romney administration would be much more pro-life than Obama’s, and that he would favor conservative jurists who are skeptical of Roe. That is not perfect, but it is good insomuch as it is better than Obama — and I am not prepared to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
    All that said, I realize that this calculus is almost entirely prudential, and I could just be flat out wrong.

  16. If pre-election polls were the determinging factor in who should be the Republican candidate than George Bush should have been the nominee instead of Reagan in 1980

    I don’t say they are the determining factor in who should be the nominee, but they are an indication of who is more likely to win a general election. That Reagan ended up winning against Carter doesn’t change that fact.

  17. A rather poor indicator at this time in a Presidential election cycle BA. After the conventions they have greater validity, although even then they need to be taken with a boulder of salt as demonstrated by the Reagan example. I believe the majority of polls in the first week of September of 2008 showed McCain ahead of Obama.

  18. It’s not conservative vs. moderate vs. liberal. It’s about the credentialed eiltes whose world views separate them from us. Seems they get upset when knuckle-draggers, such as myself, rise up on our hind legs and get in the way of their choices.

    Them there conservative elites didn’t excoriate Palin because she was liberal or moderate. They feared and loathed Sarah because she is not one of them.

    Newt will fight. He is from Mars.

    Santorum hasn’t shown any fight. He is from Venus.

    Romney is afraid or ashamed of himself. So, he can’t counter-punch. He is from Uranus.

    Paul and libertarians are worse than liberals. They are from Jupiter: could not be more stupider.

    Anyhow, Obama is at 44% approval rating. That’s down from 47% in second year; 57% first year; and 69% approval Inauguration.

    Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush had better polling numbers at similar dates in their failed re-election runs. Carter was slightly worse. I can’t understand that last one.

  19. If Ron Paul (R. Pluto) gets the nominee, I’m going third party.

    As for Jay’s comments, I luv it! Romney is just another H.W.Bush/Dole/McCain clone that leaves me reaching for a swig of whiskey and a revolver.

    I want Santorum and he’s getting better in the debates.

    I could vote for Gingrich and hope he lands several debilitating punches to forever render Obama the worst president ever.

    I’d vote for Romney, if there were no one else and pray for a quick eight years to go by quickly.

  20. Can anybody name a candidate for national office whose winning campaign strategy against an incumbent was to build a majority out of reluctant supporters?

  21. Darwin:

    Santorum actually strikes me as a strongly principled social conservative, and in some ways I do like him, but I just don’t see him as having the executive presence to lead the nation or to succeed against Obama onstage.

    Mike Petrik:

    I think he is not only unelectable, he is also incapable of effectively governing a nation that sadly does not share his his passion on social issues. That would take a leader with with exceptional persuasive abilities, and I don’t see that in Santorum.

    You did not ask, but I tell anyway. I would not bother too much about handicapping candidates in this manner. The electorate can be highly tolerant of a considerable swath of characters if ambient conditions take a certain form. You will recall that in 1980 the country elected a man who had (eleven years earlier) been literally alone among the country’s governors on important policy questions. You will recall that three years ago the country elected a man who had been, just four years earlier, sitting in the Illinois legislature. Unlike Barry Goldwater or George McGovern, Mr. Santorum has been road-tested on a large and diverse electorate. His stance on the issues is pretty much what is modal among Republicans, just more emphatically stated. He will do as a candidate. His real deficiency is a deficit of preparation: no background as an executive and a truncated career in the private sector.

    Which brings us to what the problem is. The country needs to climb out of the hole it is in over the next four or five years. That will require instituting a combination of budget cuts and tax hikes. The latter is not admitted by Republican pols generally and quite a number may be perfectly sincere for all that. Mr. Romney’s utility (aside from an absence of distractions in his life like Marianne Ginther Gingrich) is that when he denies an intent to seek a tax increase, he is among the candidates the most likely to be lying. He also has experience presiding over restructurings. That will be useful.

    In effect, we are reduced to the hope that Mr. Romney will be much like the elder George Bush: a cheesy candidate but not a cheesy President. Wish things were different….

  22. Art, you may be right. But I would note that I voted for Ronald Reagan. Twice. Rick Santorum is no Ronald Reagan.

  23. Rick Santorum is no Ronald Reagan.

    Per David Stockman, Ronald Reagan was, a good deal of the time, daft. I have seen no indication that that is true of Mr. Santorum. (It is true of Michelle Bachmann, alas). So, yes, he is no Ronald Reagan.

  24. David Stockman calling Ronald Reagan daft is like a turtle calling an eagle slow poke. Stockman should have been fired by Reagan after his Atlantic article in December 1981. One of Reagan’s faults is that he always was too kind hearted to mendacious mediocrities like Stockman, who was lucky to avoid a jail cell after his tenure as CEO of Collins & Aikman during 2003-2005.

  25. 1. Stockman is not a mediocrity; he is anything but daft.

    2. He was known (and likely still is) for bouts of compuslive honesty. Some of them were in the presence of William Greider, which was not particularly prudent;

    3. One of Stockman’s accounts concerned a questionnaire he forwarded to the President ca. 1983. It was an attempt to flesh out just what were the Presidents priorities and preferences with regard to federal expenditure. The President was fascinated with the questionnaire and budgeted time over several days to complete it. Stockman examined the answers and discussed the implications with the President, which were as follows: you get everything you want and we have $800 bn in deficits over the next five fiscal years. Mightn’t we consider requesting a tax increase? Reagan’s reply, “Now, David, it is deficit spending that is the problem….”.

  26. I have to echo Micha Elyi’s comment: “Can anybody name a candidate for national office whose winning campaign strategy against an incumbent was to build a majority out of reluctant supporters?” And let me add to it: Can anybody name the last time the candidate running against an unpopular incumbent won by being bland, moderate and uncontroversial?

    Whoever the GOP nominates, the Democrats are going to ask the swing voters, “Granted that BHO hasn’t done a very good job, do you really want to replace him with this guy?” And if it’s someone the core can’t get excited about, you can’t expect the swing to get excited about him, either. Just being “not Obama” in the most literal sense possible isn’t enough; the not-Obama has to be clearly not Obama in terms of policy and philosophy as well as identity. Romney simply hasn’t convinced anyone outside his own camp that he’s anything but “kinda-sorta-not-Obama”. That’s not a recipe for success — if we’re not careful, someone’s gonna think we’re afraid of Obama. He’s not an 800-pound gorilla! And neither Santorum nor Gingrich are that scary! (Ron Paul, on the other hand ….) I think either one of these two could get the core whipped up enough to pull the swing to the right. Mitt simply isn’t that attractive. Let’s not vote scared.

  27. Voting the lesser of evils is why we have had evils in government for so long. We call ourselves Christians and even Catholics but we do not have the faith the size of a mustard seed. God is Almighty and can do all things even put Rick Santorum in the White House. Only Santorum can lead America back to God and to being, once again, a Christian nation.

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