Mitt Romney: who the American Right really stand for, not who they’d have the people believe
While British politics is currently preoccupied with the debate over Scottish independence, across the Atlantic they have bigger fish to, ahem, fry. With the Presidential election to come in November, America’s Republican Party are currently soldiering through the process of nominating a candidate to rival President Barack Obama.
We may only be a few weeks into a contest that will go on until August, but I think it’s pretty safe for me to now call the race for Mitt Romney. I don’t have a reputation on which to stake such things, but let’s just say ‘I swear on my mum’s life’ and leave it at that.
Having narrowly edged out google search phenomenon and sweater-vest rocking Evangelical Rick Santorum in Iowa, Romney cruised to victory in New Hampshire with close to 40% of the vote. The next primary moves the six candidates to South Carolina, where Romney’s rivals have already begun to take the desperate pot-shots characteristic of an ailing campaign.
Such certainty in the outcome of this particular race is all the more depressing as, for so long in the build-up, its respective runners had provided such tremendous entertainment. Alas, neither Herman ‘The Herminator’ Cain, nor Michelle Bachmann, have lasted through to now. Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry are little more than an irrelevance, Ron Paul is happy simply to have a platform for his libertarian agenda, while former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is throwing bucket loads of mud in the hope enough will eventually stick to the frontrunner. That leaves Santorum, who is likely to be boosted by an endorsement from Conservative leaders but remains seemingly incapable of appearing little more than a fringe candidate.
So, who is this great Conservative ideologue capable of uniting the Republican Party and storming to sensational victory in November against the great Socialist Satan inhabiting the White House? The truth is, they don’t exist, which is why the Republicans have finally given up the ghost and relented to the inevitability of nominating Romney. Romney has run a campaign characterised by a somewhat understandable disdain for his opponents, consistently taking aim at President Obama rather than any Republican rivals. Positioning himself as the voice of the Conservative Right is not, however, that simple.
Once an independent, Romney ran for the Republican nomination in 2008 as a moderate on the back of a Governorship in Massachusetts that saw him institute an individual mandate healthcare system uncannily similar to that President Obama passed through a hostile Congress. This undermines his own credentials and allows opponents such as Newt Gingrich to label him the ‘Massachusetts moderate’, moderate here being used pejoratively of course. However, as one Republican blogger pointed out recently, this also weakens Romney in a fight against Obama. Healthcare has been perhaps the greatest controversy of Obama’s Presidency, yet Romney’s moderate history disarms the President’s opponents of perhaps their most potent weapon.
Without the healthcare stick with which to clobber Obama, Republican strategists will no doubt have been preparing attack ad after attack ad on Obama’s jobs record. Unemployment figures have remained stubbornly in the high single digits, and whatever the truth about the state of the economy President Bush left behind, Obama’s approval ratings is testament to his weakness on the issue that surely matters most to ‘ordinary’ Americans. An open goal then, surely? Except, Romney’s history once again looks set to complicate things. So keen to stress that he is not ‘a career politician’, Romney instead sought to paint himself as the ideal tonic for the American economy by drawing attention to his credentials in the private sector.
Attention was just what his record received, in particular Romney’s time at a company named Bain Capital. Rick Perry pounced on the questionable ethics Romney had seemingly practiced, repeatedly branding the frontrunner a ‘vulture capitalist’. This line of attack was only given greater potency by Romney’s unfortunate statement “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.” Now, Romney may have actually been talking about the joys of the free market, but given the loose relationship between his rivals and the truth it is easy to see how such a quote can be distorted. Beyond the problems of securing the nomination, this battle may be indicative of a far more serious issue at hand for Romney and the party he is set to lead. His rivals had barely perfected their stump speech on the flaws of unabashed Capitalism and the unrestrained free market than the party establishment had to remind them that these were things they were indeed in favour of. Sure enough, memories duly jogged, normality was restored and Romney was once more criticised for being a Republican In Name Only, rather than the very epitome of Republican economic beliefs.
You see, the Republican Party has found in Romney a candidate who says exactly what they say they want to hear and still has a realistic shot at the White House and yet they are not satisfied. There is something that just isn’t quite right about Romney, and it could undermine their chances against Obama in November. Having gone from independent to moderate to raging conservative, Romney has broadly tracked the pattern of public opinion in a country that has steadily shifted right. But in the fallout from the economic crisis of 2008 (aided in no small part by the policies of President Bush and the Republican Party), the Right never was a natural partner for public anger at corporate greed. Somehow though, as illustrated by the impact of the radical Tea Party movement, conservative sentiment has taken hold amongst many of those feeling both downtrodden and dissatisfied with the President who so boldly vowed to bring them change.
It was this appeal to working-class America which led the likes of Perry to forget that, in reality, the Republican Party has no qualms with the policies that helped bring forth the economic collapse. Unemployment is an issue that does concern them, but the answer they offer is deregulation of business. This would, perhaps, not be such a problem. Dress rich people up as ‘job creators’ and elitist policies as the ‘pursuit of freedom’ and you have a persuasive argument. Unfortunately for the Republicans, this rhetoric is undermined by recent facts. Obama’s stimulus package, so staunchly opposed by the Right, looks as if it may just be working. Unemployment is down to 8.5%, the lowest since October 2009. The US economy is showing serious signs of improvement, and along with it goes Obama’s approval.
As Jon Stewart said, if the GOP took out an internet dating ad, Romney would be their perfect match. Romney is the candidate of what the Republican Party stand for; who they really stand for, not who they’d have the American people believe. He will be the Republican nominee, and he will pose a serious threat to Obama’s second term, but perhaps the Republicans’ unease is based on the concern that the more they get to know Romney, the more the American people will realise he doesn’t really represent them; the more they will realise the Republican Party doesn’t really represent them.
Posted on January 16, 2012, in Comment, Foreign Affairs, General, Looking Forward, US Politics and tagged Barack Obama, GOP, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman, Michelle Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, president, Republican Party, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, White House. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.