Conservatives rightly sense that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is neither conservative nor electable. But as the 2012 primary season nears, they seem to be missing the most crucial reason why.
The endless GOP presidential debates have made clear conservatives’ distaste for the individual mandate policy at the heart of Romneycare. But so far no one has explained how that policy reflects Romney’s basic economic principles. That’s because we still don’t know what those principles are.
Most people think Romney’s electability problem would be relating to voters. That’s true, but it’s not only because he is extremely wealthy. The real reason voters cannot relate to Mitt Romney is because his principles have no visible foundation.
Romney’s political history shows a lack of strong leadership and no loyalty to the conservative movement. During the Reagan years, he was a self-described “independent.” Beginning with his unsuccessful 1994 Senate race against Ted Kennedy, he has flipped on all of the most pressing issues facing our country: health care, immigration, Social Security, education, stimulus, and many more.
The one in four likely primary voters who support him may be cutting him a good deal of slack, assuming that he’s changed his mind on key issues due to changing conditions — that he’s a successful businessman whose private sector experience is just what’s needed to execute proper economic policy in a crisis. Unfortunately, his record proves this assumption to be unfounded.
Romney, who has only won a single election, has run for office many times. He has clearly mastered the art of pandering to his audience of the moment.
Exhibit A: education. In 1994, he stood for eliminating the federal Department of Education. Fast-forward to 2007, and we find him a strong advocate of President Bush’s top-down-from-Washington No Child Left Behind law. A complete reversal. Why the change of mind?
“Once upon a time,” he says, “I said I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education. That was my position when I ran for Senate in 1994. That’s very popular with the base.” In other words, when the GOP establishment’s opinion changed, so did his position.
Exhibit B: the auto bailouts. In 2008, while campaigning in Michigan, Romney said, “I’m not willing to sit back and say, ‘Too bad for Michigan, too bad — too bad for the car industry, too bad for the people who’ve lost their jobs. They’re gone forever.’”
But outside of the Motor City, he wrote an op-ed titled, “Let Detroit go bankrupt.” Defending the piece to a reporter, he exclaimed, “That’s exactly what I said. The headline you read which said ‘let Detroit go bankrupt’ points out that those companies needed to go through bankruptcy to shed those costs.” Two different views for two different audiences.
And then, of course, there’s health care.
Romneycare was sold as a way to provide cheaper, universal health care to the people of Massachusetts. However, it has caused the cost of medicine and premiums to skyrocket. Sixty percent of this burden has fallen on individuals and businesses. The predictable result: price controls. Due to a massive spike in health care costs, Romneycare has led to government-imposed HMO rate caps. According to the Beacon Hill Institute, “These are, in effect, price controls that will dampen the incentive to provide services and lead to longer wait times and the rationing of healthcare.”
The premise of Romneycare — that universal coverage can be imposed via mandates without driving up costs — was irresponsible in principle and has proved economically disastrous in practice.
Romney now defends his plan on the basis that it was popular in the Bay State and is an example of federalism in action — “a state solution to a state problem.” He also points out that the liberal legislature made his bill more government-centric than he would have preferred.
But other conservative leaders, such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, have dealt with liberal legislatures and presidents, and won — without folding or getting rolled.
But, you say, what really matters is what he’ll do in Washington. Well, let’s consider: Is the 59-point Romney plan for America a good one? Will it get our economy moving again?
Even former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman — considered by many to be the most liberal candidate in the race — has a more pro-growth economic plan than Romney. Huntsman’s plan trumps Romney’s in slashing taxes and spending. In fact, unlike Romney’s plan, Huntsman’s plan was praised by the economically conservative Wall Street Journal.
Romney’s evolving positions on so many issues will make it tough for him to go up against President Obama. In recent days, his main strength — a smooth discipline in defending his record — has begun to fray. In a “Special Report” interview with Fox News’s Bret Baier on November 29, when asked to explain his flip-flops on amnesty for illegal immigrants, he appeared extremely flustered. After the cameras were turned off, he complained. The moment was telling.
If a TV news anchor can easily fluster this seasoned campaigner and former governor, how can we expect him, as national standard-bearer, to withstand the attacks of a sitting president and Democratic Party who are already taking aim at his lack of fixed convictions?
Perhaps the only way Romney can avoid being a second Bob Dole or John McCain — a lackluster candidate destined to lose — is by picking a solidly conservative running mate.
The Iowa caucuses are less than a month away. Tea party conservatives are determined to replace President Obama next year, but we will not move heaven and earth for just any Republican. We demand a candidate with firm convictions. We would rather have a nominee who has occasionally strayed from sound principles and repented than someone who has had no principles in the first place. In this time of crisis, America needs a reliable conservative, not a panderer-in-chief.
Celia Bigelow is a research intern at FreedomWorks.