January 13, 2012 Mitt Romney for President (or at least for the Republican nomination)
After seeing the New Hampshire primary results online, I gave money to a Presidential candidate. This wasn’t the first time I had given money to a candidate; it was, however, the first time I’d given over $200 (the threshold for your gift to be publicly disclosed). The candidate was Mitt Romney.
Why? In thinking about the Presidential candidates, I began with an assumption that may not be widely shared: that if the next four years are anything like the last four or eight or twelve, the biggest problems will be problems that we don’t see coming, problems that you can’t resolve by looking in a little book saying “What Conservatives Should Do About X…”- problems like the financial crisis or natural disasters or terrorist attacks. So to me I’m not looking solely for someone who agrees with me on today’s issues, because even where I know what I think about today’s issues, today’s issues might not be tomorrow’s.
Of course, it seems to me that the economy and unemployment will probably be the major issues of the mid-2010s. But those issues may not look to me as they do today; for example, the proper balance between austerity and stimulus may change depending on both the overall health of the U.S. economy and on how successful European nations’ austerity measures look.
Instead, I want someone who I think will be best at dealing with the issue I don’t see coming. For me, that means someone smart, someone who can focus on details as well as the big picture, someone who will talk to experts with a variety of points of view. And to the extent that tomorrow’s issues do fit into ideological categories, I prefer someone who is on the pragmatic side at home and on the dovish side abroad. He should have some executive experience, and some experience working with a legislature dominated by the opposing party. Our current President has been unable to get anything done unless he has 60 votes for his party in the Senate- not a healthy situation for the Republic.
By these criteria, no one is perfect. But of the candidates who have a chance of winning the Republican nomination, I think Mitt Romney is the best. My sense of Romney is that he is a smart, pragmatic technocrat, though probably more hawkish abroad than I would like. He has been governor (though four years as governor is less experience than I would like)- and seems to have been a reasonably effective one.
The main alternatives left are Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry. Santorum is simply too far right for me; he seems like a reasonably decent man, and if I wanted a knee-jerk ideologue who I KNOW will start a war with Iran, he’s your man. But I want someone more centrist.
Gingrich and Perry are more pragmatic than Santorum, but simply come across to me as a bit too erratic to be trusted with nuclear weapons. On the positive side, the Clinton/Gingrich era was a pretty good one; when Clinton was President and Gingrich was Speaker, the nation moved towards a balanced budget. But Gingrich just has a habit of saying irresponsible things, and the people who have worked with him in Congress tend to dislike him. By contrast, the “word of mouth” I have heard on Romney tends to be favorable. In short, Gingrich just makes my skin crawl sometimes.
Perry strikes me as kind of, um, an idiot. I think the last straw was when he called for another war in Iraq. This is a man who simply should not be allowed to be Commander-in-Chief. Period.
There are two other Republicans who I have been more tempted to vote for: Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul. Huntsman has a lot going for him: another pragmatist with executive experience who seems slightly more dovish than Romney. If I had been voting in New Hampshire I might have been tempted to vote for Huntsman. But it seems to me that if Huntsman cannot do better than third in New Hampshire (one of the more moderate primary states) his campaign is dead, especially since the next two primary states (Fla and SC) are further right. I suppose that if Romney has clinched the nomination by the time my state (NY) rolls around, I could imagine a protest, “send them a message” vote for Huntsman. But right now is the time to choose a potential President, not for a protest vote. So if I was voting in a state that really mattered, like South Carolina, I would vote for Romney.
Ron Paul is certainly the most ideologically consistent candidate in the race. And i am glad he is running, because I’m glad someone in the GOP stands for a less trigger-happy foreign policy. But I cannot imagine him winning the nomination; my sense is that the voters who don’t think of him as their first choice tend to dislike him. So to me a vote for Paul is a “send them a message” vote. And right now i am ready to “send them a President.” (By the time the NY primary rolls around I may see things differently).
Moreover, I think Ron Paul may be a bit too extreme for my taste; I want to hear more about his response to some of the unsavory rumors about his alleged hostility to Israel. Before voting for him, I think I would want to hear a response to those rumors. (On the other hand, the source of these rumors, former aide Eric Dondero, seems a bit wacky himself, and Paul’s public statements about Israel have not been all that hostile).
What about the general election? I will worry about that in a few months. (Suffice it to say that I would like to think we can do better than President Obama…)