3/25/2008

Mitt Romney: Nowhere to Go

In my last post, I addressed presumptive Republican nominee John McCain's potential vice presidential picks. I primarily examined the merits of former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman. However, there was one prominent name that I deliberately left unmentioned because I felt he deserved his own post. That potential pick is former presidential rival and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney received a bum rap during this year's presidential campaign. Some of it was unfair because it pertained to issues beyond his control that should not have even been issues to begin with, such as his religion. Other problems he experienced were of his own doing, such as exaggerating, changing his positions on several key issues, and a general sense of artificiality or detachment because of his wealth and perceived "perfect" family and personal image. But all in all, he had run a decent campaign and was methodically putting together support in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire until two things happened:

1. Fred Thompson's candidacy wounded Romney in that Thompson assumed the role Romney was trying to fill, but with a lot more name recognition, buzz, and fanfare. This essentially relegated Romney to second fiddle in the minds of voters who were searching for an authentic, consistent conservative. However, Thompson turned out to be a disappointment. This, coupled with Rudy Giuliani's flagging campaign, was excellent news for Romney until...

2. The meteoric rise of Mike Huckabee, who was able to rocket up the polls on a shoestring budget. Huckabee's perceived authenticity and humility contrasted greatly with Romney, who had come to be seen as trying to buy votes because of how much of his personal fortune he had invested in his campaign. In addition, Huckabee's exploitation of the discomfort some Republicans had regarding Romney's faith took Romney off message and forced him to deliver a speech on faith in America, which was symbolically similar to the speech Barack Obama gave on race earlier this month. Time he spent addressing his religion was time he could have spent shoring up his support in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

In the end, both Thompson and Huckabee led to Romney's undoing. Thompson was a nonviable candidate, but he ended up draining votes that could have gone to Romney in Iowa and South Carolina. Huckabee had a bit more support than Thompson, but didn't have the money and was seen as a one-dimensional candidate (a religious conservative) who could not go the distance against McCain. Had Romney stopped Huckabee in Iowa, Huckabee's campaign would have been stillborn and Romney very well may have won South Carolina.

By the time Florida came around and it appeared that the conservative candidates' cannibalizing each other was doing nothing but clearing the way for the distrusted and perceived moderate John McCain, conservative Republicans wizened up and began to rally behind Romney. However, it was too little too late and McCain was well on his way to becoming the presumptive nominee.

Since then, Romney's name has been bandied about as a possible vice presidential choice. Despite his previous stances on core conservative issues, Romney is now much closer to the Republican base than McCain is. And given how attractive he ultimately ended up in comparison to the flash-in-the-pan or one-dimensional candidacies of Giuliani, Huckabee, and Thompson, it is reasonable to assert that Romney's stock value increased significantly in the minds of conservatives. Thus, Romney could be seen as the face of the New Republican Party in 2012 if John McCain's campaign ends in failure.

So could McCain groom Romney by tapping him to be his running mate this year? It's possible, but I view it as unlikely for the following reasons:

1. Romney and McCain do not personally like each other. McCain has hit Romney hard in the debates for his flip-flopping and mockingly referred to him as "the candidate of change." Both men may be able to swallow their distaste for each other, but it seems a bit far-fetched to think there could be a true sense of synergy between them. McCain-Romney seems about as awkward as Kerry-Edwards.

2. Conservatives were unhappy with this year's Republican field because there wasn't a credible, consistent conservative in the running. Thompson, Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain, and Romney all had at least one fatal flaw. But now the race is over, and John McCain can choose anyone he wants. His pool of potential vice presidential picks is far richer than the pool of actual Republican presidential candidates. Romney may be more in line with conservative Republicans now in comparison to his former rivals. However, there are many more current and former Republican governors, senators, and congressmen who are even more attractive to the base than Romney is. And Romney will likely have to compete with these more attractive candidates in 2012 as well, should he decide to run again. Despite his current ideology, Romney is still an emotionally sterile candidate who is seen as a flip-flopping opportunist to many voters. For the charismatically challenged John McCain, Mitt Romney would not complement him much in this regard.

3. Romney's candidacy would take several traditional Republican weapons off the table in the general election. Wedge issues like gay marriage would not be as effective because of its legalization in Romney's home state of Massachusetts. Attacking "socialized medicine" also wouldn't work because of the healthcare system Romney enacted during his gubernatorial term. And how would Second Amendment defenders feel about Romney, especially if the eventual Democratic nominee chooses a muscular Democrat like Virginia Senator Jim Webb for the #2 slot? In short, having Romney on the ticket would force the Republicans to reconcile several inconsistencies that exist between their presidential ticket and their common criticisms of their Democratic opponents.

4. Romney would not "deliver" a state or help deliver a region in which McCain is weak. Republicans will not win Massachusetts this fall. It just won't happen. And McCain is strong enough to put New Hampshire, Connecticut, and New Jersey in play without Romney. But more importantly, Romney probably will not help McCain at all in the South. Barack Obama has performed quite well in the South, where there are high percentages of Black voters. This is not to say Obama's support is only high among Black voters, but if Blacks make up 30-40% of the vote and Obama is winning 85% of these votes, that gives him a very high floor from which he can expand his support. Mike Huckabee won several Southern states, but Mitt Romney got completely shut out. Hillary Clinton will probably take Arkansas and could put Tennessee and Florida in play, while Barack Obama could legitimately contest North Carolina and Georgia. Mitt Romney will probably not do much to stem this.

My sense is that Romney's window has closed and there's nowhere else for him to go except in a future Republican president's cabinet. This year's Republican presidential field is similar to the Democratic presidential field in 2004 in that both fields consisted of relatively weak candidates. Should McCain lose this year's election, there will be a new wave of conservative presidential aspirants looking to lead the party out of the wilderness. At least one of these aspirants will be the consensus candidate that unites fiscal, social, and foreign policy conservatives--and probably do so more effectively than Romney ever could. And the fact that Romney will likely have to contend with such candidates in 2012 does not preclude him from having McCain consider such candidates right now.

11 comment(s):

Nikki said...

Anthony...great post as usual. I agree with you. I don't think Mitt is going to get the nod from McCain. The only thing McCain needs is his money and that may be an attractive reason for a Romney pick up. I would like to see Condi Rice but rumor has it she has no interest. But you never know. Mitt Romneys son Josh is going to run against another Utah biggie, Jim Matheson, for Congress...Scott Matheson was a popular governor and a democrat in the 70's and 80's in Utah. Jim Matheson is his son and also a democrat, at least that's the buzz around here. I think Mitt will need to do something in politics if he is going to run in the future. :)N

Reginald Harrison Williams said...

Romney, in my humble opinion, is a depressing story.

When he was Massachusett's Governor, I just loved the guy. He was the moderate Republican that I thought could be a key part of finally getting the US on track to having a unified ticket.

Alas, he decided to "strategize" his own political success without being who he really was: the well-liked Republican from one of the bluest states in the country.

If had stayed the way he was, it would have been interesting pairing him with a popular Democrat from a red state like Bill Richardson, Evan Bayh, or fomer Governor Warner of Virginia.

*sigh* I won't give up hope, though, that Romney goes back to his old self in some fashion down the line.

Thomas said...

I totally agree with Reginald. Romney could have been a new kind of Republican. He could have been the anti-Bush. By any measure, Romney is an uber-competent guy. But he tried to be the "George Allen" candidate.

I don't see why Romney didn't see that while there are a lot of people into all "America is turning into a gutter" way of thought, many more people are turned off by it.

Brett said...

Actually, Romney's son is no longer running against Matheson - he dismissed the rumor, if I recall correctly.

One thing to keep in mind is that Vice Presidents and Presidents have gotten together even if they were absolutely contemptuous of one another in the primary race before. The 1960 competition between Lyndon B. Johnson and JFK was very acrimonious, and I've actually heard that when JFK offered LBJ the Vice Presidency, he hadn't seriously thought LBJ would accept.

Thomas said...

What you are saying is true, Brett, but I don't think Mitt Romney gives McCain any kind of benefit whatsoever. Romney proved to be a weak national candidate.

Anthony, are you going to do a post about what the future holds for Mike Huckabee?

Brett said...

Oh, I agree with you, Thomas - Romney pretty much brings nothing to the campaign in terms of the normal benefits of a running mate. He's a "conservative", but there are plenty of those without the flip-flopping. He has no chance of pulling Massachusetts, and no doubt he'd be trying to feather his own nest throughout the entire campaign in case McCain went down so he could run in 2012.

Thomas said...

I wonder if Ann Romney and the five Romney brothers are going to sit around and let Mitt spend another $60 million in 2012 just for an ego trip.

What I miss about Mitt Romney is the kind of staged "people are rising up across the country to support Mitt" aura of the campaign. I mean, I would support Mitt too if he helped pay down my student loans.

I am not the biggest Obama supporter ever but for Mitt to say he was an "agent of change" too, especially after it became clear that that was the message of the year, it was just vomit-inducing.

Anthony Palmer said...

Nikki,

I am familiar with Jim Matheson. He's the only Democratic member of the entire Utah congressional delegation. I think Matheson is a bit too popular to be defeated, even by a Romney.

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RHW/Thomas,

Romney probably could have won had he run as the Northeastern moderate Republican he governed as in Massachusetts. When he tried to act like a red meat Southern conservative, that's when the flipflop allegations started and that's when he looked the most artificial. He also struggled to find his own identity in the race. It seemed like he was always ripping ideas off of his rivals and slapping the Romney badge on them. Have you seen any of his "change" signs that look like knockoffs from the Obama "change" signs? Unbelievable.

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Brett,

Yes, JFK and LBJ did not particularly like each other, but I guess they needed each other. I just can't see that happening with Obama and Clinton because of how much they cancel each other out. And the goal of choosing a VP is to ADD something to the ticket. Besides money, I fail to see what Romney adds to McCain. I just don't see it.

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I've thought about writing more about Huckabee, but it looks like if he's not the VP this time around, there won't be much to say about him for awhile. I wonder if he'd be coy about endorsing the ticket like John Edwards is because of reservations about McCain's appeal to conservative Christians?

Romney tried to be something he wasn't and failed. If he hadn't tried to out-conservative his rivals, he would have had far more appeal in the general election and could have put Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and maybe even New Jersey in play. After all, he was elected TWICE in Massachusetts, so he knew how to win in a blue state...

Brett said...

Matheson is probably too difficult for the Republicans in my state to dislodge short of running Mitt Romney himself. It's some pretty amazing footwork and pandering on his part, to be honest; the Permanent Republican Majority in the Legislature here tried to gerrymander his seat out of existence in 2000, but he barely managed to hang on.

By the way, if anyone ever wants to see what a Republican Majority in power for decades at a time looks like, just look at Utah.

Nikki said...

and if you want to see what a dominant democratic government looks like look at California...:)N

Thomas said...

I am a big fan of the Atlantic Monthly magazine. I just feel so damn cultured after I get done reading each month's issue. (You should have seen how upset I got when my sister lost last month's copy before I had the chance to read it. Darn her!) I am also a big fan of the Atlantic's cadre of bloggers - Marc Ambinder, Matthew Yglesias, Megan McArdle, and Ross Douthat. These are the bloggers I read first most mornings. They all have unique points of view which makes me think about ideas that I normally wouldn't think about on my own. Which is always a good thing.

Today Marc Ambinder reported that an iPetition appeared on a website called "No Mitt VP." My first question - an iPetition, what's that? The website was created by people who don't want John McCain to pick Mitt Romney as his vice-president choice because Mitt is insufficiently dedicated to social issues such as opposition to abortion and gay marriage and YouTube. Nothing new here as one of the reasons that Mitt Romney cratered as a candidate was because his conservative credentials were always suspect. Reading through the comments of Marc Ambinder's post seemed to favor Romney 3 to 1 however. The message of most of these commenters - if you don't like Mitt Romney, you are a religious bigot.

I think Mitt Romney was a terrible candidate. Many times before the primaries even started, I would tell my friends, "Mitt would be a worse candidate than George W. Bush." Seriously. I said that. George W. Bush was enough of his own man to go against generally accepted conservative beliefs. For example, George W. Bush has been rather welcoming of immigrants to this country. For that, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh raked him over the coals. Could you imagine President Mitt Romney ever going against Rush Limbaugh? I can't. George W. Bush believes he is a conservative which allows him to pick and choose battles with the conservative base. His comfort with them (because he is one of them) means he can try to push them into the direction he wants. Family squabbling is okay. We all do it.

Mitt Romney is the equivalent of someone marrying into the family. Most of us guys would not argue with the mother of our fiancée right before the wedding. We would probably go along with whatever our future mother-in-law wanted. This would be the prudent course. Why make waves? Mitt is this person. He knows he is not a conservative but he wants all the benefits that he thinks being a conservative would get him. Heck, he is pretending he is a conservative already so he might as well go all the way into Limbaugh/Hannity/O'Reilly Land. The ironic thing is that 2008 just wasn't the year to be a conservative. Romney gambled and lost. Yet his followers can't see that.

Romney's supporters can't accept the real reason he lost (the reason stated above) so they come up with the "religious prejudice" excuse. There are always going to be people who don't like Mormons. But then there are people who don't like blacks or Catholics or Jews. Barack Obama seems to be doing fine. Joseph Lieberman was seen as a decent vice-presidential candidate in 2000. And John F. Kennedy is still regarded by many as a good president. People sometimes can't admit that the candidate they picked was seen by many people as insincere and wooden and politically clumsy. To see things this way impugns the judgment of Romney supporters. To impugn the judgment of phantom religious bigots means that Romney supporters won't have to go to sleep at night wondering how they picked such a weak candidate.

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.