Jay B Gaskill
No GOP nominee on planet earth can reassure conservatives this year. The very issue that now most concerns the conservative commentariat about Mitt Romney is that he may be vulnerable in that, as a capitalist seeking to reinvigorate moribund business ventures for Bain Capital he behaved like a capitalist. He actually pruned failing businesses so that they could grow, refinanced others and, yes, did some firing as well as hiring, closing some doors as he opened others.
What we have in former governor Romney is a classic 1960’s conservative, taking flak from some post-modern proto-conservatives (who are trenchantly described in Victor Davis Hanson’s biting analysis – “Postmodern Populism” http://www.victorhanson.com/articles/hanson011112.html ).
Romney is a man out of his time, a boomer who totally escaped the boomer culture. He is the outlier in the field as a man of natural, modest personal probity. Of course, this leaves him open to the essentially trivial attacks for being “too square” and for not being sufficiently “secular” or, alternately belonging to a “non-mainstream” faith tradition. One unblinking glimpse at the incumbent democratic president puts these concerns in their proper perspective.
Candidate Romney is making a straightforward run for the task of governance in difficult times by staying disciplined, on-message, realistic and upbeat.
This leaves him open to the charge of “insufficient passion”. Narcissists and ideologues evidence and inspire passion. Mitt Romney is neither an ideologue nor a narcissist. He is moved by patriotism and a sense of duty. How old fashioned…and how LDS.
What will matter most to voters in the closing weeks of the general election? I will get to that, but first some perspective.
At this early stage of the nominating process, a number of democrats that I know secretly wish they had a different candidate.[i] What can we say about the current GOP conservatives? They are as nervous and unsettled as the rest of the country. We’re living through that kind of time.
The conservatives who are weighing in on the POTUS selection process can be sorted into three groups: bruised, itchy and clear-headed.
The bruised ones are suffering from PCAS – Post Compromise Abuse Syndrome. These are the conservatives who feel betrayed by their go-along, get-along fellow travelers who have collaborated with the progressive agenda for the last 35 years. They share responsibility for the current fiscal crisis, the entitlement overhang, and the political/bureaucratic load on commerce. Few can escape the scorn of this group. Truth be told, if St. Reagan were resurrected, he would not satisfy the bruised ones because of his fiscal baggage – two terms of Reagan budget compromises set the template for all the later huge deficits that republicans approved in the cause of national security.
The itchy ones are like junkyard dogs that smell blood – they are spoiling for a fight. They represent the conservatives’ version of the pent up, “this is our moment” energy of the liberals who decided to double down on the progressive agenda as soon as they had a charismatic POTUS and working majorities in house and senate. The liberals’ unchecked impulse to seek a “now or never” power grab so shocked the electorate that it sparked the Tea Party and caused a major power shift in the house.
No single GOP candidate is sufficiently combative to scratch this particular itch without blowing the general election. Newt Gingrich is experiencing a bipolar meltdown. Governor Christie is backing Governor Romney who in turn refuses to ramp up to rabid.
The clear headed ones consist of the plurality of leaders and thinkers who are more consistently conservative on most issues than, say, Romney, Christie or Gingrich are, but remain realists. They understand several things that seem to have escaped the attention of their bruised and itchy fellow conservatives:
One: That the incumbent president must be defeated.
Two: That Romney, Gingrich, Perry – add a name if you like–is each sufficiently conservative to effect the necessary change of direction.
Three: That to win in November, the GOP conservative base needs to turn out in record numbers, which means that their enthusiasm for the candidate must be fully engaged.
Four: That this president will use all his available tools – including starting a war – in order to win another term. In other words, this race may be a close one no matter which candidate the GOP selects.
The Crapshoot Factor: No one actually knows what the playing field will look like in October and the first week of November. Hillary might or might not be on the ticket. A plausible recovery might or might not be underway. Iran might or might not be ripe for a preemptive attack on its nuclear weapons. Or it might be too late. Or POTUS Obama might have green-lighted a Clintonesque surgical missile strike or two. The price of oil might or might not have exploded. The European economic system might or might not have collapsed. And so on…the unknowns are exponentially linked to developments mostly outside US control.
This is a make or break election. Therefore everyone is nervous.
The Few Certainties:
· The Obama campaign will go negative on the GOP nominee, as personally as they can get away with.
· The American people will be feeling insecure, worried and mistrustful.
· The economy will be the overriding issue for most Americans no matter what is going on in the rest of the world.
· The polls will be unreliable because opinions will be volatile and fewer prospective voters will be honest to pollsters. The focus groups and internal polls will be only slightly more accurate.
WHAT WILL MATTER THE MOST
Passion is overrated, but trust is essential. This president has broken trust with key elements in his fractured coalition. (See Noemie Emery’s brilliant analysis, “Overrated” – http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/overrated_594676.html )
Recall that first election when FDR ran against Hoover in 1932? It was a referendum on Hoover’s failure, not necessarily a mad rush to the charismatic New York governor who, by the way, criticized Hoover for overspending and promised a balanced budget! FDR’s real charisma was acquired after he was sworn in. He earned it in wartime and depression because he was a faithful, reliable, reassuring leader. The American people, including republicans, trusted him.
Can you imagine a volatile, almost bipolar, Newt Gingrich inspiring or earning such trust? …Or the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue being rehired after squandering the voter’s trust in his first term? I have serious plausibility issues with either scenario.
If Perry had been better prepared, if Cain had better staff support, if, if…. We won’t be addressing “ifs” for much longer.
I believe that in this coming presidential election two things will matter greatly; they are temperament and character. When we are alone with our ballots in on November 6 of this year, the world will not be at peace and the country will not be in a condition of stable prosperity. We will be worried – for ourselves and for those who will immediately follow us.
It’s going to come down to trust. Will we be willing to trust the leadership of this precious country to X or Y? That’s it: A simple, but momentous binary choice…and everything else follows.
Jay B Gaskill
Copyright © 2012 Jay B Gaskill as first published on The Policy Think Site and the Dot 2 Dot Blog. Links and forwards are welcome and encouraged. For all other permissions, contact the author – firstname.lastname@example.org
[i] They pine for Hillary, but only if she is at the top of the ticket. Secretary Clinton will not take on a sitting president and this one will never step down. A Jerry Brown could pave the way for a Hillary coup – his ego is boundless enough to make a run himself, but these scenarios are fantasies for disgruntled democrats.