Thursday, September 13, 2012

Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and the future of the Republican party: Part 1

 This will be a very opinionated post.  If you do not like these type of posts, please do not read. I'll probably throw in some swear words, too, just because they're fun to say.  A real writer wouldn't have to use them but could effectively express anger or rage.  Another reminder that I'm not a real writer.

After the 2012 presidential election is over, we'll either have Barack Obama as the first black president to be re-elected or we'll have Mitt Romney, the first Mormon (maybe) president.  I'm going to focus this post on the assumption that Barack Obama is going to be re-elected.  This assumption is looking more and more likely, despite what Romney's advisers are saying.  Operating under this assumption allows me to venture more of a guess as to what will happen.  One caveat: while the presidential election might give us some insight on the future of the party, it will probably not be enough to draw an accurate conclusions without combining it with the results in Congressional elections.  Alright, with those notes at the beginning we'll move onto my possibly hyperbolic predictions about the future of the Republican party.

Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts and savior of the Winter Olympics, proved to be a very effective fund-raiser and using some of his own personal fortune financed his campaign.  He outraised his fellow Republicans and outspent them on the campaign.  Despite this, he lost Iowa.  He was criticized by his fellow Republicans as being a flip-flopper and was losing a majority of the Christian evangelical vote.  He campaigned on economic issues and was also seen as many as insincere.  He won the primary in Michigan.  But John McCain won Florida and eventually the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2008.  Flash forward to 2012 and you have the same thing happen except Romney wins the damn nomination.  So, what the hell changed?

Let's recap how John McCain won the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.  In the old primary system, for Republicans, they had a winner-take-all scenario for each state.  So, if the candidate was the top vote-getter in a particular state, he got all the delegates needed.  But that's not all.  The candidate, if he led the plurality would win the state and the delegates.  So, for instance if the total votes were split up between multiple candidates, the top vote-getter won the delegates.  A candidate did not need to get a majority of the votes but rather just lead the plurality.  This is part of how John McCain won the nomination.  He took advantage of the plurality which basically consisted of Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and others splitting the Christian Evangelical votes and McCain was able to pick up the scraps, essentially.  McCain also focused his campaign on making it a personality campaign, where he brought up the issues that was important to him and the ones that he could win on.

In 2012, some of the states went away with their winner-take-all formats and moved to proportional delegates.  So if a candidate received 33% of the vote, they would receive 33% of the delegates, instead of the 100% if they won the state with 33% of the vote.  Not all of the states did this, but some of them did.  This was under the guise that this would allow some of the low-profile candidates to stay in the race longer and it would prolong the race because a front-runner would not be able to sew up all of the delegates, too quickly. 

In 2008, there was not a real front-runner. Rudy Giuliani was initially the favorite, but he would never appeal to social conservatives. Mike Huckabee appealed to the social conservatives and Evangelical votes.  But he was strapped for cash.  Romney was a favorite, due to his fund-raising talents and his own personal fortune.  He didn't split the Evangelical vote as most of that went to Huckabee.  Most Evangelicals responded in a poll that they would not vote for a Mormon.  There were issues of broader appeal, as well, about 30% of voters in a poll stated that they would not vote for a Mormon.  But, not everyone knew he was a Mormon.  McCain, who was down and out at one point, rebounded and secured the nomination.

In 2012, Romney was the front-runner to most.  The narrative that arose in the media was, who would become the anti-Romney?  Each Republican candidate had his/her moment in the sun as media favorites.  But unlike in 2008, no one emerged like McCain.  Pawlenty dropped out after a poor showing in Iowa.  Bachmann emerged only to announce crazy things and she fell pretty quickly.  Rick Perry was a favorite (and the person I thought would win the nomination) but a piss-poor showing at the debates hurt his stock.  Herman Cain nine-nine-nined himself back to Godfather's.  Newt Gingrich wanted to launch a moon colony and dropped out of orbit.  Rick Santorum had a debt problem and dropped out once his daughter was sick.  Ron Paul never gave up the fight and neither did his delegates.  But Romney emerged victorious.  Why?

I believe that part of this reason was that they were all fairly weak candidates.  While Romney is not the strongest candidate, in order for someone else to emerge they actually have to be a viable option.  Bachmann, Perry, and Cain proved to make too many blunders to be a viable option.  Gingrich's history as Speaker of the House and his arrogance led many to be turned off by him.  Rick Santorum was a viable option for awhile but his over the top social conservatism turned off some closer to center Republicans.  How many of these candidates are running for office in 2012? One. Bachmann is and she has a possibility of losing her district.  This was an especially bad year for Republican candidates.  Romney, by and large, won the Republican nomination because he had more money and there was no one really better than him to run.

It's not like there is a real shortage of viable Presidential candidates for the Republican party, just look at the vice-presidential power rankings to get a glimpse at who could have run.  But why didn't they want to run in 2012?  Let's set aside that the world is going to end by the end of 2012.  After the 2008 election and closer to the 2010 mid-term elections, a new faction emerged on the right, that championed fiscal conservative policies.  Their main issues seemed to center around the stimulus and Obamacare.  While these issues arose because of the Obama presidency, some established Republicans had already complained about the influence of Karl Rove among others prior to the 2008 elections.  Complaining that they shouldn't have to explain why they support gay marriage or raising taxes to help pay the deficit, these Republicans were called RINOs.  Republicans in name only.  This new faction, the Tea Party, championed that they were outsiders running for government and going to clean it up.  Some of the resentment for government officials is still there.  Unless you are one of these Tea Partiers.  I think that's part of the reason the 2012 Republican Presidential debates were littered with people who had been out of government for awhile (except Bachmann and Perry). 

But why choose Romney?  The easy answer is above.  There was not really a better candidate than Romney who was trying to secure the nomination.  On top of that, Romney had already established himself as a great fund-raiser, which would come in handy running against Obama's well-organized grassroots campaign and fund-raisers.  Romney's wealth allowed him other privileges, as well.  With Romney's well-documented history of flip-flopping, is it possible that the Republican establishment thought Romney would be able to mold into whatever candidate they wanted to trot out there?  It seems plausible.  Romney has been described by many observers as being a generic Republican.  He has been criticized by myself among others for not releasing any of his plans and lacking specificity in his campaign.  At risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, what if this is intentional?  If Romney is running a campaign as a generic Republican, isn't this what the Republican establishment wants?  Instead, speaking in platitudes and empty phrases allows Romney to be whatever candidate you want him to be, as opposed to the candidate he is. 

Romney named Paul Ryan as his vice-president nominee, not too long ago.  Ryan was adopted by the Tea Party, in part due to his economic plan.  But Ryan, as it has been noted many times before, was basically a yes man for the George W.Bush administration and it was only recently that he would be an outspoken critic of the economic crisis that we're in.  Ryan was chosen, according to some analysts, to balance the ticket out from those in the Republican base who might not be energized by Romney as the presidential candidate.  Ryan, who is very outspoken, is described as a fiscal and social conservative and before being named as the vice-president nominee was known for being an ideological leader of the Republicans.  Romney who has been described by both sides as a flip-flopper needed someone to shore up his base and Ryan was a perfect fit. This is where I think it gets interesting.

But Ryan has been short on discussing what changes he might make.  Even after the Ryan nomination, Romney has been quiet on his various policies.  The one policy that we knew was going to happen, the repeal of Obamacare, now might not happen.  Romney hasn't shared what aspects of Ryan's economic plan he might want to keep or get rid of.  He hasn't fully explained what tax loopholes he might close.  All of these things seem important.  But the Romney/Ryan ticket is stuck between a rock and a hard place.  On the one hand, saying too much migh turn off the moderates and independents that they need.  It could also alienate the Republican base and the organized Tea Party.  The Romney/Ryan and to a greater extent, the Republican party has to figure out how to win over moderates and independents without losing their base.  That's the risk they're running in this election.  It's been this risky for awhile.

More to come in Part Two.

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