Why not Romney?
By Bruce Walker
As unlikely as it seemed several months ago, it seems increasingly likely that Mitt Romney should win the Republican primary and win the general election. Mitt Romney may be the last best hope of conservatives. Before condemning that statement as un-Reaganesque, consider that Ronald Reagan as Governor of California was once pro-choice. The Gipper changed dramatically, but change is part of the process that people of the Judeo-Christian tradition undergo when they reflect. As an enthusiastic supporter of the now ended candidacy of Fred Thompson, whose sentiments on abortion changed, I am willing to concede to Mitt Romney the same prerogative. Let us first consider whether conservative should want Romney to be the Republican nominee (i.e. does he reflect our values):
Is Mitt a Fiscal Conservative?
Yes, he is – or at least Mitt is as much a fiscal conservative as America will get. His record as Governor of Massachusetts was fairly good from the standpoint of taxes and spending. That said, his record is actually better than good, because he was governor of perhaps the most Leftist state in the nation and he had practically no support in the legislature.
Ironically, the presumed Achilles Heel of the Romney campaign, his Mormonism, should be a comfort to economic conservatives. Mormonism has many common values with Evangelical Christians and with Orthodox Jews. Self-reliance is highly treasured. Baptist churches and schools, Orthodox synagogues and yeshivas, and Mormon temples raised their own funds, help their own members in time of need, and do not view government “help” as necessarily help. The ultimate fiscal conservative is someone who believes that individuals should work, save and not ask for handouts – something that is common among Mormons and other social conservatives.
Romney also proved an effective businessman, which makes him the only candidate in either party who actually understands the business world. Significantly, his experience is in venture capital, which is at the nexus of all business activity. And, although we tend to skip through it, his work in the 2002 Winter Olympics demonstrates not only competence, but more importantly integrity in dealing with financial messes – and the federal government is one vast financial mess.
Is Mitt a Social Conservative?
His position as Governor of Massachusetts may seem muddled, until one recalls the salient fact of that governorship: Romney was the only policy-maker in the state who was not a radical Leftist. Anything he did to help stop abortion was more than every other elected or appointed official in Massachusetts was doing. It is easy to be a social conservative in Arkansas – everyone agrees with you – but it is incomparably harder to be a social conservative in the only state that George McGovern carried.
The public statements of Romney now are plain enough. He believes Roe v. Wade should be overturned. He promises to appoint “conservative judges.” He also avows to protect the sanctity of marriage as between one man and one woman, to fight pornography and so on. Romney was the most socially conservative leader in Massachusetts as governor and as a candidate he is saying all the things that social conservatives want to hear. If that were all, perhaps that would not be enough, but there is more.
Romney has been happily married to the same woman for thirty-nine years. Mitt and Ann have five sons from their marriage, which seems to be quite happy. As a Mormon, Romney does not drink, smoke or use drugs. He served as a missionary for his faith for two and a half years in France. If one can put aside the tenets of his Mormonism, then his personal life is the epitome of a good social conservative.
The question for non-Mormons like me is whether or not we can put aside the tenets of Mormonism. I certainly hope so. The alliance of serious Protestants, Catholics and Jews has been the heart of what we call social conservatism. When devout Baptists, Orthodox Jews and pious Catholics began to stop worrying about their differences and, instead, to see that they all have vastly more in common on social and political issues, then social conservatism was born. And from the very beginning, Mormons have been part of that social conservative coalition.
Conservatives do not seem to mind Mormons when Republicans routinely pocket the electoral votes of Utah or cipher in “two conservatives from Utah” in our Senate calculations, just like we conservatives have no problem counting the Hassidic vote in parts of New York as reliably conservative. If social conservatism is going to survive, then all of us who believe in its core precepts had better put our individual variations of that philosophy politely aside.
Is Mitt a National Security Conservative?
None of the candidates of either party have any executive experience in national security, and that includes John McCain, who had to relate back to his command experience in the Navy to come to anything close to executive experience in protecting America, and McCain’s executive experience is utterly unrelated to the threats we face today.
Romney does have very real executive experience, however, and he has that experience both as the governor of a populous state and as the head of major, international business concerns. Mitt is the only candidate who has experience as a government executive and a business executive. He is also, arguably, the best manager of any of the candidates. Assuming that all the candidates want to defend America, it seems sensible that the candidate who is the best executive would do the best job. That person may be Rudy Giuliani or it may be Mitt Romney, but it is almost certainly one of those two.
Many candidates – Obama, Clinton, Huckabee – appear almost indifferent to the safety of our nation. McCain is strong on national defense, but weak on our national borders. Giuliani is strong on national defense, but ran a sanctuary city. Out of those six candidates most likely to actually win their party’s nomination, Romney is the most thoroughgoing national security conservative. Add to that intention his strong executive experience and Mitt certainly passes the national security conservative test.
Can Mitt Win the General Election?
Why does Romney run so badly in general election matchups? Some pundits say he is too scripted, too mechanical, too organized. Yet exactly the same things are said about Hillary, and she is not considered unelectable at all. In fact, during an era in which any Republican must be on his guard against any offhand remark or even a bad photograph, it is a distinct advantage to be very well prepared and very well organized. Mitt Romney is handsome, impeccably dressed, happily married, free from any personal scandals, and always prepared with a good answer to a question – that is a problem for a Republican nominee?
Romney also has advantages in the general election that have heretofore been hidden. His father was Governor of Michigan and his mother ran for the Senate in Michigan. Romney could well carry Michigan, a big industrial state that teeters, in close elections, toward Republicans in the general election. Although he would not carry Massachusetts, he might be able to carry a swing state like New Hampshire. Finally, the Mormon populations in Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico would be enthusiastic supporters of Romney. Republicans could otherwise lose any of those states, but with a strong Mormon turnout for Romney, those states would probably remain Republican.
The only personal attacks on Romney that will draw blood relate to his faith, and attacks on his Mormonism in the general election will almost certainly backfire. The dignity with which Romney responds to bigotry will create sympathy for him and also make him look more presidential. Any such attacks will also bring home the fact that Mitt does have religious faith, even if it is not the same as other Americans.
So the general election will, fairly quickly, turn into a campaign of issues. That is the sort of campaign that works well for Republicans. Most people want lower taxes and Democrats want higher taxes. Most people want us to win in Iraq and Democrats increasingly want to ignore Iraq. Most issues that interest social conservatives – conventional marriage, restrictions on pornography, some limits on abortion – break well in public opinion for Republicans. That is why “running on the issues” is nearly always good for Republicans and nearly always bad for Democrats.
Finally, Romney can run as an outsider, while Obama and Clinton will both run as insiders. Romney was a governor of a state. The two Democrats are members of the majority party in the Senate. Romney can plausibly say that he is not part of the “mess in Washington.” His two potential opponents cannot.
Romney was the first choice of very few Republicans. But when viewed objectively he is a conservative in each of the three areas of conservatism. He has the best shot of any conservative of winning the White House. And there are very few reasons left not to support his candidacy.
Bruce Walker has been a published author in print and in electronic media since 1990. He is a contributing editor to Enter Stage Right and a regular contributor to Conservative Truth, American Daily, Intellectual Conservative, Web Commentary, NewsByUs and Men's News Daily. His first book, Sinisterism: Secular Religion of the Lie by Outskirts Press was published in January 2006.