In the last few weeks, as some of you may have noticed, I have written very few blog posts. In part, this is due to the rhythm of the semester. Once the grading begins, one's free time shrinks. Part of it is due to the fact that I am maniacally trying to finish a polished draft of a book on ancient Sparta that I had hoped, before my extended sojourn in the hospital at the National Institutes of Health took place, to finish this summer. In part, however, it was because I had some thinking to do.
As some of you are no doubt acutely aware, the election results came to me as a shock. Given the emergence of the Tea Party Movement in 2009, the Republicans' discovery in the last months of that year that there is such a thing as a backbone, and their magnificent victory in the midterms in 2010, I figured that the Republicans had a real shot in 2012 at repeating what they had achieved against Jimmy Carter in 1980. And when Mitt Romney put Paul Ryan on the ticket, it looked to me as if he was going to fully capitalize on the opportunity that Barack Obama's mismanagement of the economy had afforded the Republicans.
But, of course, the Republicans did not achieve again what they had accomplished in 1980. I have no doubt that they could have won handily, and I believe that they would have done so had Mitt Romney not, in the end, opted to run a largely non-ideological, non-partisan, personal campaign against Barack Obama, eschewing appeals to first principles and intimating by his silence in this regard that Barack Obama is a perfectly decent fellow with perfectly respectable ideas and intentions and that there was nothing more at issue in the election than the unfortunate managerial failings of the President.
Instead of seeking a partisan victory by uniting the candidates of his party on a single, clearly spelled-out platform like Newt Gringrich's Contract with America, Romney orphaned the Republican Senatorial candidates in such a manner as to localize the Senatorial campaigns. This enabled the Democratic nominees in states such as Montana, Missouri, and Indiana to distance themselves from the President, to run as independents of a sort highly critical of Barack Obama, to capitalize on errors made by their opponents, and to win. It also meant that there was no real clash of visions in the national race. When Romney put Paul Ryan on the ticket, I persuaded myself that he was an old dog capable of learning new tricks and that he was going to grasp the bull by the horns and run a principled campaign. But in the end he chose not to do so, and he ran for the Presidency in the manner he had run for the Senate and for the Governorship in Massachusetts: as a man almost ashamed of the party that had nominated him and of the ideological principles that it had embraced. You can never win an argument you do not make, and Romney, by his silence regarding the nature and ends of government, conceded the argument.
Even then, of course, Romney himself might have won the personal victory he sought had the women and men he hired run a competent campaign. But this they did not do. To begin with, in the primaries, especially when challenged by Governor Rick Perry of Texas (where the Republicans have done well with the Hispanic vote) Romney acted in such a manner as to alienate Mexican-Americans. Then, in the general election, he simply conceded the Hispanic vote. I have a colleague who is fluent in Spanish and who regularly watches Univision. He tells me that, in the course of the campaign, he saw not a single television advertisement on Univision touting Mitt Romney.
I am not arguing here that Romney could have persuaded a majority of Mexican-American voters to side with him. That would have been beyond the reach of any Republican this year. I am merely suggesting that he could have done much better and that, in the circumstances, had he done so, it might well have made a real difference.
The other area in which the Romney campaign was simply incompetent had to do with getting out the vote. I live in a battleground state. We were inundated with robocalls for weeks prior to the election. The Romney people clearly had money to burn, and this money they wasted in such a manner as to infuriate potential supporters. Never once was I contacted by a real human being. In Michigan -- at least in the corner of Michigan in which I live -- the Romney campaign had no ground game to speak of.
To this, we can add that his campaign spent considerable sums on software designed to support the ground game that he apparently tried to mount elsewhere, and on election day that software crashed. So much for Mitt Romney's competence as a technocrat!
One of the reasons that I did not see this coming was that I did not pay adequate attention to the campaign as it unfolded. Lacking a television, I missed the advertisements aimed at demonizing Romney, and I did not fully appreciate the significance of Romney's abysmal performance at the Republican National Convention -- where it became clear that he intended to eschew principles and run a personal campaign, inviting people to vote for him solely because he is a nice fellow and an experienced manager.
I did watch the debates (all of the first, and most of the others). I was overly impressed by Romney's magnificent victory in the first debate. I thought that it put him in the lead, and my suspicions were confirmed by the Gallup poll and, some of the time, by Rasmussen. What I did not adequately appreciate in the following weeks was Romney's folly in trying to sit on that lead and run out the clock. When he should have been audacious, he was almost timid; and, especially on Benghazi, he allowed President Obama to get away with outright lies. Instead of going for a decisive victory, Romney aimed at eking out a win -- which is the way a challenger is very much apt to lose. All that it took to tip the balance against him was a hurricane and a Republican governor, in need of help from FEMA, willing to heap effusive praise on the President.
I have no doubt that Mitt Romney was a better candidate than any of those who ran against him for the Republican nomination. He lost a squeaker. The others, apart from Rick Perry, had no business being in the race. Every one of them would have lost by a landslide.
I also have no doubt that we would be much better off now had Romney won. For the time being, Barack Obama has the whip hand; and, in the next few years, he is going to do the country a great deal of harm -- all for the purpose of expanding further the administrative entitlements state. The consequences in foreign affairs could be exceedingly grim -- especially with regard to Iran and China -- and the damage done the economy will hurt Americans grievously for a long time to come.
But I also suspect that, had he won election, Mitt Romney would soon have left his party and its supporters demoralized.This, as you may remember, I worried about from the start. Back in May, 2011, I post a piece entitled The Last Man Standing. In it, I restated in brief the conclusion reached in my recent book Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift that "there is built into liberal democracy a natural tendency to drift in the direction of the administrative state with its concentration of power in the executive branch of the central government and its entitlement programs," and I added the following:
This propensity can only be successfully resisted if we understand its origins and if we take cognizance of the manner in which the American regime, as envisaged by the Founding generation, was designed to stand in its way. This propensity has been systematically and quite effectively exploited by the Progressives and their heirs now for something like a century. What they understand that we need to understand is that a reversal of the trend is well nigh impossible – well nigh, let me add, but not quite. Well nigh because those in possession of entitlements will scream bloody murder if they are threatened. And not quite because, thanks in part to our unwitting benefactor Barack Obama, we no longer have the resources to support the entitlements state. We can certainly raise taxes, as President Obama and the Democrats intend to do, but that does not mean that in the long run we will take in more revenue – and it is massively increased revenue that the entitlement state needs. The Progressives are banking on the unwillingness of a considerable part of the electorate to give up the subsidies on which they live, and on this they have always to date successfully banked. Right now, however, the fiscal crisis of the welfare state offers us an opening, and I am confident that Mitt Romney will miss it. He is the sort of man who never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Since 1928, when Calvin Coolidge relinquished the Presidency, the office has been held by a number of Republicans – Herbert Hoover, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush. Only one of these has displayed an understanding of the problem we face, and he was, for understandable reasons, too preoccupied with wining the Cold War, to confront that problem with all of his energy. Hoover, Eisenhower, Nixon, Bush père, and Bush fils were all what I call managerial progressives. Their claim over against the liberals was that they could manage the administrative state more efficiently and effectively than their counterparts. Rarely if ever did any of them mention the Founders. Rarely if ever did they appeal to the first principles of our form of government as they are expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Rarely if ever did they appeal to the Constitution in opposition to the jurisprudential drift of the Supreme Court. Limited government was not part of their vocabulary. They were without clue.
The reasons are simple enough. Not one of these men was properly educated in the principles of American government. They had their virtues. They were practical men, can-do sorts with a pretty good understanding of how to get from here to there. In terms of moral understanding, as it is applied to political matters, however, they were bankrupt or pretty nearly so. The ordinary senior at Hillsdale College these days has a better grasp of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the conditions of freedom than did any of these men.
The same is true of nearly all Republicans. They come into Congress, the Senate, and state government from the Chambers of Commerce. Few of them have any sort of political education. Most are businessmen. If they have something more than an undergraduate education, it is reflected by their possessing a law degree or an MBA – which is to say, they have been trained to be managerial progressives. Our law schools and our business schools owe their origins to the Progressives. They were created for the purpose of encouraging what Franklin Delano Roosevelt called “rational administration.”
The reason why I oppose Mitt Romney is simple, He was born to destroy everything that we have accomplished since the Tea-Party Movement emerged in the Spring of 2009. Romney is the very model of a managerial progressive. He has one great virtue. He knows how to run things; he knows how to organize things. He would make a good Secretary of Commerce. He has no understanding of the principles that underpin our government. And, in fact, like most businessmen, he is a man almost devoid of political principles. Give him a problem, and he will make a highly intelligent attempt to solve it. Ask him to identify which problems should be left to ordinary people and what are the proper limits to government’s reach, and he would not understand the question. He is what you might call a social engineer; and, in his estimation, we are little more than the cogs and wheels that need to be engineered. . . .
Romney’s political instincts are disastrous. He will betray the friends of liberty and limited government at the first opportunity. If he is nominated, the people who joined the Tea Party and turned out in 2010 to give the Republicans an historic victory are likely to stay home. If, by some miracle, the progenitor of Romneycare actually defeats the progenitor of Obamacare, he will quickly embrace the entitlement state and present himself as the man who can make it hum, as he did in Massachusetts. He is not better than Hoover, Eisenhower, Nixon, Bush père, and Bush fils. He is cut from the same cloth, and in practice he is apt to be far, far worse. The consequence will be the death in American life or at least the decay of the impulse embodied within the Tea-Party Movement.
What I wrote at that time was harsh, and I came to think -- or, rather, hope -- that I had been unjust. I wanted to believe that time and circumstance had given Romney the education that he did not receive at Stanford, Brigham Young University, Harvard Business School, and Harvard Law School, and I wanted to believe that his choice of Paul Ryan as a running mate was not just a sop thrown to the Tea Party Movement but a sign that Romney himself had outgrown managerial progressivism. Had I spent less time thinking about Sparta this Fall and more time following the Republican campaign, had I read and re-read Romney's acceptance speech at the convention, I would have known better.
I do not now believe that Mitt Romney was ever serious about repealing Obamacare. Had he been serious, he would have run a campaign designed to nationalize the Senatorial elections in every state. What he seemed to want was to be elected President and to have Democratic control in the Senate as an excuse for a failure on his part to keep his campaign promises. It was as if he wanted to win but did not want the ideas he had been forced to espouse in order to get the Republican nomination to be victorious with him. He wanted to win an office, not an argument. In that particular, he was typical of nearly all Republican presidential nominees in the past. He had no desire to change the direction in which we are tending. He merely wanted to manage its progress in that direction more prudently.
That may never have been good enough. It is certainly not good enough now. Let's hope that Mitt Romney turns out to be the last managerial progressive nominated for the Presidency by the Republican Party. What we need is a woman or man intent on radically correcting our course and a party intent on achieving the same end.
The last thing that we need to do is to take the advice proffered to us by Mike Murphy -- tellingly, not in a conservative journal but in the pages of Time Magazine, where such advice is most welcome -- that, to succeed, we must surrender to the Zeitgeist. Why just think how much good Arnold Schwarzenegger did the Republican Party and the people of California! Barry Goldwater was right about one thing long ago. We need to offer Americans a choice, not an echo. We need to do more than re-arrange the deck chairs on our political Titanic.