I learned something the other day. I learned it while reading a post on Ricochet and the attendant comments, and I was appalled. Apparently, back in 2010, when I was not adequately paying attention, the Republican National Committee quietly changed the delegate-selection rules in imitation of Barack Obama’s Democrats. In the past, at least in the primaries, the arrangement was winner-take-all. Now, if I have this right, the delegates will be allocated in proportion to the percentage of votes received in the primaries and caucuses. What this means is that the distribution will be fragmented and that the final decision will be delayed (perhaps until the national convention) – which gives Barack Obama, who has the Democratic nomination sewed up, a tremendous advantage. He is already raising money; he will not have to spend it on the caucuses and primaries of his party; and he can go after the Republicans late next Spring and in the early summer with everything that he has got, softening them up for the kill while they pummel one another.
That is one problem. There is another, and it may be worse. The Republican Party has a history of nominating the fellow whose turn it is, and the reforms instituted in 2010 are apt to reinforce this propensity. They reward the candidate who finds it easiest to raise money and who is the best organized. Generally, that means the fellow who lost last time. He has the name recognition, and he has in place something of the organization he put together last time. To this, we can add another difficulty – campaign finance reform.
The First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” But, thanks to Woodrow Wilson and the Progressives, it has been a long time since we have been governed under the Constitution. We are governed, instead, by the Supreme Court – which, pretending to a wisdom putatively not possessed by the benighted Framers of the Bill of Rights, has decided to let Congress abridge freedom of speech and of the press and to limit our ability to assemble and petition the Government for a redress of grievances insofar as our exercise of these rights might influence the outcome of elections. Their excuse is that they fear that the process by which such money is raised and spent in support of or against candidates may corrupt those who win office with its help, and many are now prepared to argue that it is unacceptable that those who earn more than others may by dint of this have a more powerful voice in public affairs. The only individual who can spend more than the limits established by Congress is the candidate himself (who is presumably not likely to corrupt himself). The consequence of this cockamamie system is that the filthy rich have an overwhelming advantage.
Enter Mitt Romney. Last time, he was the initial front-runner – until Mike Huckabee beat him in Iowa and exploited the tensions between evangelical Christians and Mormons in such a way as to damage his candidacy. Governor Romney knows how to run a national campaign, he has the remnants of his old organization, and he can easily raise money. Moreover, he has an advantage not unlike the one possessed by Michael Dukakis in 1988. By dint of being a member of a tight-knit religious denomination, he commands the loyalty of a considerable number of Americans in every corner of the country, which gives him a further organizational advantage. Of course, this means that he also suffers from the bigotry directed against the Mormon church. But the advantages he possesses outweigh the disadvantages that he faces – especially because he has his own money. In a year in which, thanks to the new delegate-selection rules, money and organization will matter more than ever, Governor Romney has what it takes to get the Republican nomination: the desire to win, and staying power. He can be crushed in Iowa and even New Hampshire and still see the race through. Like John McCain in 2008, if no one else emerges who fires up the electorate, he will be the last man standing.
Of the others currently in the race, only Tim Pawlenty stands a chance. Newt Gingrich is living proof that one can be exceedingly bright and be clueless at the same time; and, in case everyone has forgotten his last term of service in public office, he made a fool out of himself last week. Herman Cain is bright. His instincts are good. And he knows a thing or two about running a business. But he has never served in public office, and he has already demonstrated considerable ignorance in foreign affairs – the only sphere in which the President has virtually full responsibility and a great deal of discretion. He – and for that matter Gingrich – might be well suited to serving in a cabinet post, but he is not presidential timber, not yet anyway. Ron Paul’s presence in the race may serve a real purpose. We need to think about the damage done this country by the Federal Reserve Board, and Paul can be relied on to bring the subject up. But he is not a serious candidate. In a great many respects, he is nothing but a crank. No one in his right mind would put him in charge of anything. The remaining candidates are not even worth mentioning.
Pawlenty has many virtues. He has flirted with some bad ideas (Gingrich is inclined to wallow in them), but he has had second thoughts about Cap and Trade. He has ample executive experience, and he was, I am told, a good Governor in Minnesota. To date, however, he has not demonstrated fire, zest, and command. As I mentioned in an earlier post, when I was in Minneapolis a few weeks ago, speaking to the Minnesota Association of Scholars, I asked everyone I met what they thought of Pawlenty. All praised his record as Governor; all indicated that they would be happy to vote for him again; and none of them was confident that he was presidential timber. Does he have the moxie to overcome the advantages possessed by Romney? I hope so, but they expressed doubts, and so, at least for the time being, I harbor them as well. I hope that Pawlenty has the personal resources to defeat Mitt Romney, because, frankly, I shudder at the prospect that Mitt Romney will gain the Republican nomination.
As I argued in my book Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift, 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. 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.
Not surprisingly, Romney is a political chameleon. When he ran for the Senate against Ted Kennedy in 1994, he rejected the legacy of Ronald Reagan and embraced abortion. When he ran for the Republican presidential nomination, he altered his profile in both regards. It seems never to have crossed his mind when, as Governor, he confronted a Democratic legislature in Massachusetts intent on introducing socialized medicine that the individual mandate is tyrannical. Flexibility is what substitute for virtue in his case.
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.
If, in my last post, I was unsparing in my criticism of Governor Mitch Daniels, if I took him to task for leading us on for months and then leaving us in the lurch, it was because I fear that he has left us to the mercy of a managerial progressive. If Tim Pawlenty is not up to the task of stopping Romney and of articulating the political principles that inspired the Tea Party, then we will have to find someone else – and very soon – or watch all the work that has been done since April, 2009 come to naught.