No, that’s not a rhetorical question, but one that I and others have been pondering ever since it became clear that our betters in the Republican Establishment wanted to coronate nominal Republican Mitt Romney as the 2012 GOP nominee.
Allow me to digress for a moment. After the 2008 election, there was talk among the beltway punditocracy of the death of conservatism. With Arlen Specter’s defection to the Democrat Party, liberals held a veto-proof majority in the Senate and an overwhelming majority in the House. The most left-wing president in the history of the Republic had approval ratings in the upper 60s and Republicans appeared headed the way of the Whigs. What a difference two years makes. The 2010 mid-term election was a political earthquake as Republicans captured a half dozen seats in the Senate and 63 seats in the House, effectively putting an end to Obama’s “Hopenchange”, which proved to be as disastrous as it was vacuous.
Conservatives were in a perfect position to build on 2010’s successes. The Obama experience has exposed liberalism for the utter failure conservatives had always known it would be. Obama’s poll numbers are headed inexorably toward Bush territory, the right track-wrong track numbers are the worst ever recorded, and despite the best efforts of liberals and the mainstream media to blame Bush, voters are increasingly putting the blame where it belongs: On liberalism itself. Liberalism is in head-long retreat, not only in America but around the world as the debt crisis is forcing European social democracies to come to grips with the unsustainability of the welfare state. This fiscal collapse was inevitable since, as Margaret Thatcher famously said, “the trouble with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people’s money.”
After nearly three years of failure after failure from Obama’s great socialist experiment, voters are ripe for a dramatic change and receptive to a return to constitutional conservatism. Conservatives have not had a greater opportunity to deliver a crushing, perhaps transformational blow to liberalism in at least 32 years, and the GOP is perfectly poised to deliver that change. This is the time for Republicans to offer a stark contrast with the Democrat’s failed, statist policies which have driven our nation to the brink of bankruptcy. Bold colors, not pale pastels are what these unprecedented times call for.
Republicans, however, seem intent on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The fix (and I do mean fix) is clearly in by the GOP establishment to force a candidate on conservatives, Mitt Romney, who can’t plausibly differentiate himself or his positions from Obama on a number of key issues. For example on cap and trade, ethanol subsidies, government health care mandates, and man-made global warming, to name but a few. The Wall Street Journal was even moved to suggest Romney’s positions suit him better to be Obama’s running mate rather than the Republican nominee. And we recently found out that Romney and Obama shared advisors in crafting their respective statist health care plans as well as their suicidal energy policies.
These latest revelations caused me to recall a piece I read last month in the Washington Examiner by Phillip Klein, in which the author described how a Romney Presidency would likely unfold:
If Romney were to become president, the White House would arm-twist Congressional Republicans in an attempt to get them to compromise. Rank and file Republicans would be told that they have to vote for the president’s agenda, that if they don’t, it will weaken the party politically. They’ll be told if they just pass this one thing he wants, he’ll get to Obamacare and entitlement reform — eventually. They’ll be assured that soon, Romney will do something about spending. Of course, we all know that nothing would actually happen, especially with a politician like Romney.
I couldn’t agree more with Klein’s prediction, and that’s why I asked the question I did in the headline. A Romney Administration will do nothing to change the trajectory on which America finds itself. In my opinion, there are four enormous, interrelated challenges the next president will face: The repealing of ObamaCare; a complete overhaul of the tax code and regulatory environment so that economic growth is encouraged (rather than discouraged) and the incentive for crony capitalism is eliminated; an energy policy whose goal is to actually produce energy; and immediate deficit reduction via lower spending, primarily focusing on the drivers of the problem: Entitlements. All of these issues must be addressed in order for voters to see a tangible improvement in the economy. There is nothing in Romney’s background to indicate he’d do anything substantive to change course on any of them. Quite the opposite.
Despite his nonsensical protestations (and those of Chris Christie), RomneyCare was and is the model for ObamaCare. The very same healthcare “experts” designed both systems. Romney, for all his flip flops, has not flip-flopped on this issue, and stands by his contention that RomneyCare was a good idea. His 10th Amendment rationale that RomneyCare is somehow a conservative health care plan is as phony as he is. Just because the 10th Amendment gives governors the right to enact stupid laws doesn’t mean they should. And his claim that as president he’ll issue waivers to all 50 states is flat out silly.
Just because Obama and, apparently, Romney believe that the United States is a monarchy, that doesn’t make it so. ObamaCare is a federal statute. There is nothing in the law or the constitution that allows Romney to unilaterally obviate ObamaCare by executive decree, yet that is want he wants us to believe he’ll do “on day one”. Such a move, as Mark Levin and others have noted, would be illegal and if he attempts it he’ll be sued. When he inevitably loses the lawsuit, he’ll claim he did his best to get rid of ObamaCare, move on to some other pet project (expanding ethanol subsidies, perhaps?), and we’ll be stuck with government-run healthcare forever. Or at least until we as a nation go bankrupt.
There is nothing in Romney’s ludicrous 59-point bonanza for bureaucrats to give conservatives hope for serious tax reform either. His plan amounts to nothing more than tinkering around the edges of the nation’s broken tax code. Romney even borrows a page from the liberal’s class warfare nonsense by capping capital gains tax relief at income levels of $200,000 which, as the Wall Street Journal notes, “eviscerates most of the tax cut’s economic impact…He even picked Mr. Obama’s trademark income threshold for the capital gains cut-off.”
In order to spur economic growth, tax cuts must create an incentive to produce more, a point I’ve made many times in the past (see here, for example). Romney’s plan does little to lower the current punishing marginal tax rates for those we need to provide incentive to grow their business. Rather than drastically lower or eliminate the corporate tax rate and corresponding corporate loopholes, Romney proposes lowering it from 35% to a still-high 25% while leaving intact many of the loopholes which our current Washington culture of crony capitalism thrives on. This is not surprising, of course, as Romney is a creature of this corrupt system and has no interest in changing it.
There is nothing in Romney’s background to suggest he would do anything to expand energy production, or that he even understands the need to do so. Indeed, as Governor of Massachusetts, he aggressively employed emissions caps, which he proudly boasted were the “toughest in the nation”, whose goal was specifically to reduce energy production. Further, he imposed Jimmy Carter style price ceilings to prevent Massachusetts’ energy producers from passing along the cost of his scheme to consumers. Further, as I noted in a a previous post, his advisors on this scheme are the same folks now advising our anti-energy President, Barack Obama. Now, of course, Romney claims he wants to expand drilling and nuclear energy. Does anyone seriously believe him? If so, why?
There is zero chance Romney will meaningfully tackle entitlement reform and, thus, the deficit. This is a guy who couldn’t resist resorting to Democrat scare tactics in a ploy to scare seniors in Florida into voting for him in the Republican Primary. In another piece at the Washington Examiner, Phillip Klein expressed his disgust with Romney’s use of typical liberal calumny:
Romney’s decision to pile on suggests that he’s willing to play the “granny card” against Perry if it will help him get elected, a tactic more becoming of the likes of DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz than a potential Republican nominee.
…given his willingness to engage in scare tactics to win over the AARP crowd, there’s no realistic reason to believe that a President Romney would actually be willing to tackle entitlements.
Romney’s naked pandering and use of the “granny card” is straight out of the Democrat playbook and, despite his hilarious declaration that we’ll see no pandering from his campaign, is no surprise to anyone who has seen the myriad videos of Mitt, er, pandering. Klein’s second point, though, is far more disturbing. After openly demagoging Social Security and other entitlements, there really is no reason to believe Romney will enact, or even propose, any serious reforms to the nation’s entitlement programs even as they head rapidly toward their demise via bankruptcy. He either doesn’t understand the magnitude of the problem (doubtful), or is purposely sugar-coating the problem in a quest to secure the senior vote by telling them what they want to hear rather than what they need to know. Either way, he’s backed himself into a corner and we can expect no meaningful reform on these programs.
If conservatives can’t be honest about the problems facing the country, why should we even exist? I thought we were supposed to be the adults in the room; the Party that offers real solutions to problems. Not the Party who pretends those problems don’t exist. To copy Democrat scare tactics and talking points is to unilaterally disarm. If voters are offered a choice between pander and pander-light, they’ll choose pander every time. And this entire spectacle is so unnecessary. There have been many prominent liberals over the past few decades who have also acknowledged that Social Security’s finances are a demographic time-bomb. Shouldn’t conservatives — real conservatives — seize the moment and really try to fix these programs before it’s too late? Let Democrats be forever known as the Party who refused to reform entitlements before they went bankrupt, not Republicans. Question: What do the following liberals have in common?
Paul Samuelson, economist and Nobel laureate
Ben Wattenberg, Democrat who worked in the Johnson Administration
Robert Kutner, Wa-Po columnist
Robert Shapiro, intellectual and columnist
William Raspberry, Wa-Po columnist
Jonathan Alter, Newsweek columnist and major Obama cheerleader
Matthew Miller, columnist for the New Republic
Bob Kerrey, former Democrat Senator from Nebraska
Michael Kinsley, Slate contributor
Max Frankel, former execuctive editor for the New York Times
Answer: They have all referred to Social Security, in one way or another, as a Ponzi Scheme. Where did I get this information? In a very well researched piece last month in the National Review by Stanley Kurtz. I urge you to read the whole thing. As Kurtz notes, most conservatives (which clearly excludes Romney) have always known that Social Security is unsustainable. Any defined benefit plan, which uses current contributions to pay current retirees, will inevitably collapse when the ratio of payers to payees drops below a certain level. It’s a simple matter of mathematics. In 1940, the ratio was 159 to 1. In 2010, less than 3 to 1. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to see that this program as currently constituted will collapse, and it will take far more than Mitt’s big-government technocrats tinkering around the edges to save it. Yet somehow Romney has managed to position himself to the left of even the well-known liberals listed above on Social Security.
This brings me back to my headline: If Mitt wins the nomination, would a Romney or Obama victory in the general election be better for conservatism in the long run? To be honest, I have to go with the latter. Why, you ask? Let me preface my explanation by stating that I expect Republicans to hold the House and take the Senate. The following is based on that assumption.
Nothing is more frustrating to me as a conservative than to see a Republican candidate run as a conservative only to govern as a liberal once elected. There is nothing more harmful to the Republican brand. Whenever this happens, things inevitably go bad (as they must with liberal governance) and Democrats can then easily blame conservatism in general, and Republicans specifically, for the mess. Here in Ohio, we had two back-to-back Republican governors from 1990 to 2006, George Voinovich and Bob Taft. Although Voinovich was no prize, Taft was an unmitigated catastrophe. He ran on the historically conservative “Taft” name (his grandfather was William Howard Taft), but governed as a tax-raising liberal, causing businesses to flee the state. In 2006, when his second term expired, his ratings in Ohio were lower than those of George W. Bush in 2008 and Democrats swept the elections, decimating the conservative brand and Ohio Republican Party.
In my opinion, if Romney wins the general, this is exactly what will happen, albeit on a national scale. In 2014, Republicans, in complete control of Washington, will bear the full brunt of the blame. And there will be plenty of blame because Romney’s spineless technocratic liberalism will do nothing to fix the mess we’re in, only exacerbate it. There’s simply no earthly reason to expect Romney to meaningfully confront the problems listed above. He won’t, and the economy and American spirit will continue to suffer. Conservative voters will be at a loss to explain how their “conservative President” screwed things up so bad, and they’ll be demoralized and stay home (see 2006 or 1992). Energized Democrats, on the other hand, will take back the House and Senate, and all the gains conservatives made in the past two and a half years will be forfeited. How long it takes for conservatives to regain power and relevancy is unclear. What is clear is that, with our nation careening down the road to insolvency, we no longer have the luxury of time.
But, if Obama wins next year’s election, Democrats will at least share the blame in 2014 or, more likely, take the brunt of it as voters will have had 6 years of Obama fatigue and the GOP will strengthen their majorities in Congress in preparation for an electoral sweep in 2016, hopefully with Governor Palin at the top of the ticket. With a Republican House and Senate, Obama will not be able to do much damage. Ironically, far more damage will be done with a Romney Administration as Klein explained above.
One thing that has always baffled me is the fact that liberals always seem to be a step or two ahead of Republicans when it comes to long-term political strategy. Many of them had to know that a vote for ObamaCare in early 2010 would result in electoral disaster in November, yet they did it anyway. Why? I submit it’s because they saw it as a tactical short-term defeat that would advance their long-term cause of socialism. Clealy, many of them were willing to sacrifice their seat for that cause. They saw the big picture. Why can’t conservatives ever see it?
Conservatives have made incredible progress since 2008, and I’d hate to see a guy like Romney throw it all away in 2014 and 2016, but that’s exactly what I fear will happen if he wins in 2012. All that hard work by patriotic conservatives culminating in the 2010 election will have been wasted. If Republicans don’t nominate Romney, I’ll go all out to support the nominee, whomever he or she is. But if it’s indeed Romney, I can’t see myself lifting a finger to support him. I’ll do all I can to help conservatives in down-ballot races, but I simply see no upside for conservatives, or the country, in a Romney Presidency…only a very large downside.
To be clear, I’m certainly not advocating a vote for Obama. I could no more vote for him than Romney. But given Romney’s history, I have to assume he’ll do what he’s always done (i.e. choose the path of least resistance, pander, dissemble, pass mandates on citizens, make grand deals with liberals, demagogue Social Security and other entitlements, suddenly forget he wants to repeal ObamaCare, etc., etc.), and nothing significant will be done to reverse America’s decline. An examination of Romney’s record leads me to believe I’m on solid ground here.
What conservatives need to ask themselves is this: Will a Romney Presidency build on the momentum conservatives have generated (with no help from the GOP establishment) over the past couple years…or destroy it. This is not a trivial question, and one which should be on every conservative’s mind as they head to the ballot box in 2012. Hopefully conservatives will ask this question soon enough to prevent a Romney nomination. But if not and Romney prevails in the Republican primaries, conservatives will have missed a golden opportunity to confront liberalism head on in 2012 and earn a mandate to turn back its tide.
How we react to that missed opportunity will determine how long we must wait for another. We can either retreat and vote for Romney, or take the long-term view (for a change) and reload for the future by focusing our efforts on electing constitutional conservatives to the House and Senate. Good people are free to disagree, of course, but I will opt for the latter approach. I’d never vote for Obama, but neither can I, in good conscience, support or vote for Romney.
Update: Some in the comments have asked about the Supreme Court. Two points. First, what evidence do we have that Romney would appoint conservatives to the bench? His selection of about 60 lawyers, including Robert Bork, to a meaningless “justice advisory committee” is just another attempt to obfuscate his record. I like Robert Bork, but I’m under no illusion that Romney will follow his advice any more than Obama followed the advice of his much-hyped deficit reduction commission. He didn’t, and neither will Mitt. Romney will select whomever his political advisors think will offend the least amount of moderates. That’s what he does. A much better predictor of the kind of judges Romney would select as president is to look at his record of judicial appointments as Governor of Massachusetts. The Boston Globe did just that at the height of his governorship in July, 2005. Their conclusion:
Of the 36 people Romney named to be judges or clerk magistrates, 23 are either registered Democrats or unenrolled voters who have made multiple contributions to Democratic politicians or who voted in Democratic primaries, state and local records show.
The Globe even provided this helpful graphic to illustrate their point:
The second point I’ll make is to reiterate my assumption that the Republicans will easily retake the Senate in 2012. The Republicans will be in no mood to allow another Sotomayor or Kagan on the Court. This is especially so now that Harry Reid has changed Senate rules by resorting to the so-called the nuclear option a couple weeks ago. There is already speculation that Reid’s gambit will backfire and make it much more likely that Republicans will use the filibuster on Supreme Court picks. I suspect Republicans will be even more likely to block Obama’s judicial picks when they have a majority in 2013.
So no, I don’t see the Supreme Court as a compelling reason to support the Mittster. For those who think otherwise and believe Romney would appoint conservatives to the Court, on what basis do you arrive at that conclusion? His word?