For Republicans, might makes right is back in fashion
For Republicans, might makes right is back in fashion.
“When we make rash decisions, reacting to the headlines instead of using our heads; when the first response to a challenge is to send in our military — then we risk getting drawn into unnecessary conflicts, and neglect the broader strategy we need for a safer, more prosperous world,” Obama said in his State of the Union on Tuesday night. “That’s what our enemies want us to do.” This is slightly better than “don’t do stupid shit.” Though the president spent a quarter of his speech on foreign policy and national security, at the Republican National Committee winter meeting aboard a decommissioned aircraft carrier in San Diego this weekend,”Not only was foreign policy front and center of every address, but the contenders were all convening around a hawkish, almost neoconservative position similar to where Mitt Romney was when he ran in 2012,” noted Bloomberg View’s Josh Rogin.If you follow the commentary of conservatives in the blogosphere and on social media, the idea of another Mitt Romney run for the White House is pretty much the worst idea ever, a sentiment which is consistent with the revised history of recent American politics that one hears from this segment of the world of punditry.The man would be following in the same sad footsteps of William Jennings Bryan and Adlai Stevenson, who each ran three times for president and were beaten three times.(Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama reached into his party’s progressive past to deliver a robust endorsement of higher taxes for the wealthy, government intervention in the economy and an array of new benefits for lower- and middle-income Americans. “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?
Obama’s foreign policy “was based on the premise that if we were friendly enough to other people and if we smile broadly enough and press the reset button, then peace is going to break out around the world,” Romney said. John McCain (R) of Arizona, by the time 2012 rolled around the former Massachusetts governor came to be seen during the 2012 cycle as the supposed moderate, with some even labeling the man who was cheered at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2008 even as he announced he was dropping out of the race as a “Republican In Name Only” due to his association with a health-care reform plan that many saw as being the impetus for the Affordable Care Act. His direct appeal to taxing the rich and giving to the poor is a sign of just how mainstream populism has become at a time when 2016 presidential hopefuls, including Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Mitt Romney, are talking about how to help those left behind. “We’ve seen a rhetorical shift from some Republican candidates for president in 2016. After Romney lost the general election in 2012, the standard claim on the right blamed his loss on the fact that, once again, the GOP had not nominated someone who has “conservative enough” and that this caused conservative voters to stay home.
For the better part of a year, I’ve been telling friends and family members that there’s no way Romney would run again. (Here I am saying as much last summer.) And now it looks like I might have been wrong. Interestingly, though, many of their fellow Republicans clearly don’t feel the same way: Fifty-nine percent of Republicans would like to see Romney jump into the 2016 race, while only 26 percent believe he should stay out, according to the CBS News poll. But when President Bush drew upon this support to make war with Iraq, and the result was chaos, and not the discovery of WMDs, the Might Makes Right faction in Republican politics took a blow.
I now realize it’s not so much that I didn’t think he would run as that I didn’t and still don’t want him to run — and not because I’m a Democrat and think he’d be such a formidable opponent. The reason I don’t want Romney to run is that I think he’s a decent and in some ways admirable man — and if he runs he’s likely to make an utter fool of himself. Both parties are training their rhetoric at the same set of Americans, those who haven’t felt the benefits of booming markets and an economy growing at its fastest pace in more than a decade. For Obama and fellow Democrats, the failure of the recovery to lift all boats is both a reminder that it’s politically risky to claim victory for policies already enacted and an incentive to target aid to the working class. External events, and surprises, surely push the pendulum of public opinion in one direction or another, but it inevitably swings back to the center of gravity.
Because the public perceives what Brookings’ Bill Gallston calls “an arc of crises” from Europe to North Africa and throughout the Middle East, with the U.S. seeming unable to influence their disposition, Republicans sense opportunity. It’s an experience that will always hold a very special place in my heart, but I wouldn’t put myself or my family through it again for anything in the world.
I was teaching political science at Brigham Young University and living in Salt Lake City back in the late 1990s when Romney swooped into town to galvanize the foundering organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Like many of my Mormon students at BYU, he was a little too earnest for my taste, but like the best of those students, he was impressive — exuding ambition, confidence, and competence. Are you really (to paraphrase Fritz Kraemer) “so weak of will that you accept no risks and want to intervene with real force only when no sacrifices can be required?” Politicians who project strength at all cost tend to win these contests, even though Americans are operationally much more skeptical of actually intervening then they appear to be.
Bill Clinton calls this the tendency to embrace “strong and wrong” over “smart and right.” Surprises and shocks can move the needle a bit, but this preference is pretty stable. In 2002 and 2004, after the rally effect died down, the Republicans deliberately linked their political opponents to the ideological misjudgments of their enemies.
That they could do this and get away with it might well give media critics something to write theses about for decades, but the simplest explanantion is that the Republicans did it because the party leadership figured out what their base believed and stuck to it like leeches stick to blood. Third, demonstrate domestic-policy accomplishment by touting how he’d engineered and instituted a sweeping health care reform plan in Massachusetts that had made coverage nearly universal in the state. The first two campaign planks didn’t appeal to me at all — indeed, I’d taken an early swipe at Romney on the religion question in a January 2007 cover story for The New Republic — but the last one sounded impressively pragmatic and reformist to me.
Clinton, echoing the arguments of Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, wrote in a tweet last week that Republicans shouldn’t dismantle Wall Street changes. Warren has said she won’t run, but her success in setting the debates within the Democratic Party is evident in Clinton’s effort to distance herself from the financial industry after years of raising money on Wall Street for her campaigns and her family’s foundation. Another potential Democratic contender, Senator Bernie Sanders, elected as an independent in Vermont, referred to “obscene levels of income and wealth inequality” in endorsing Obama’s plan to tax the wealthiest Americans to expand tax credits for higher education and child care. A large number of liberals (anywhere from pluralities to majorites in polls) do not support President Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy when it’s described to them. Your clothes, your more colorful extended family members, the way you talk, if you’re too edgy, if you aren’t edgy enough, what music you listen to, where you live, who you hang out with.
While Democrats roundly praised Obama after the speech, two of the nation’s most powerful labor organizations, the AFL-CIO and the Communication Workers of America, criticized his call for Congress to expedite new trade agreements as counterproductive. “Our opposition to fast-tracked trade deals that are giant giveaways to big corporations must be resolute,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. The Center for American Progress, a research group aligned with both the Obama White House and Clinton’s political operation, released a report last week, written by former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and others. But imposed on the country as a whole as Obama and the Democratic Congress had done in 2010 — well, that’s nothing less than the End of Freedom in America. Aside from its absurdity, the strategy left Romney with very little to talk about besides how much he loved America, and how his experience as a venture capitalist taught him how to create jobs.
What voters were left with was a unified portrait of a man seemingly fixated on wealth and his own personal, nearly miraculous powers of job-creation. His successor came up short — and the economy has since rebounded more quickly and more strongly than even he himself had predicted for his own presidency. Looking back through recent history, the Republican Party typically doesn’t end up nominating “maverick” candidates in the sense of picking the candidate that appeals most to the base. In the era before primaries controlled the process, of course, this was largely due to the influence of party bosses and insiders in picking the nominees, but if anything the primary system has made the likelihood that the eventual GOP nominee will come from the “establishment” even more likely. It is not just a rejection of your personal beliefs on the direction of your country that your parent personifies, it is a rejection of your entire family unit.
This is how candidates like McCain and Romney were able to hold off challenges from the right and win the nomination, and it’s likely to have a similar impact on the race in 2016 as well. When you believe in someone you love, and believe that they can change history and make your country a stronger, better place, it trumps everything else. Rick Santorum, and it seems pretty clear that, despite the rise of the tea party, the GOP nomination process remains inclined to pick a candidate closer to the middle of American politics. Romney 2016 will be Proficiency Personified — the ultimate Manager-in-Chief — a consultant for hire, ready, willing, and eager to take charge of the country and do… I actually have no idea what he would do.
Conservative columnist Ross Douthat touched on this core truth in a humorous tweet written a few days before writing a more polished (but less incisive) column on the once-and-future Romney. Romney 2028: Neo-reactionary.” One needn’t assume that Romney will drift ever-further rightward to recognize the reality captured here — namely, that the substance of the man is protean, fluid, in flux.
Especially given that this time will most likely be harder than the last, not easier, and a lot of people in the party are looking for new, fresh blood to inspire voters. As The New York Times recently noted, relying on unnamed “advisers,” Ann “believes deeply that her husband owes it to the country to take a serious look at running a third time.” No, actually Ann, he doesn’t owe us anything at all.
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