As the campaign accelerates, the issue of Mitt Romney’s electability — a major reason many assert for why he should be the candidate — is being threatened by his tin ear, exemplified with his latest gaffe of beginning a sentence by telling CNN’s Soledad O’Brien: “I’m not concerned about the very poor.” One can already see the Democrat ads after Labor Day: soundbites of Mitt offering to bet $10,000, of saying that he likes to fire people, etc. Yes, they will all be out of context, but as Obama wages a campaign as a born-again populist, they will have an effect.
The problem for Romney is that he obviously has not thought on a serious level about how to make the case for conservative economic and social policies.
Someone on his staff should give him some recent issues of National Affairs, in which he can read scores of articles such as Ryan Messmore’s “Justice, Inequality and the Poor,” which actually addresses the issue of income inequality and suggests just how conservatives should deal with it.
Instead, Romney opens himself up to forthcoming major attacks from both centrists and the left wing of the Democrat Party and alienates himself from precisely those Reagan Democrats who at present polls show do not trust him. In The New Republic today, Jonathan Cohn makes the intelligent leftist case against Romney, arguing that while Romney says a safety net exists for the poor but if there are holes in it that need to be fixed he will, the real problem is that the safety net does not do the job. Cohn argues that hardship is much more extensive than Romney thinks, and that Romney has to understand that the vast public wants government to:
… provide college loans, public schools, and Medicare and Medicaid, just to name a few well-known services. (If you don’t think Medicaid helps the middle class, go visit a nursing home and ask how many residents have children in the middle class, who, if not for Medicaid, would be paying for their parents’ care out of their own pockets.)
Cohn does not address how Medicare and Medicaid can continue to function without bankrupting our entire nation, something liberals and the left never find time to address. But his article provides a taste of what arguments Obama will make when the campaign is on, and Mitt Romney has to be able to respond effectively. One short response appears in the Weekly Standard by John Mccormack, who writes that Romney’s response is:
… also un-conservative. The standard conservative argument is that a conservative economic agenda will help everyone. For the poor, that means getting as many as possible back on their feet and working rather than languishing as wards of the welfare state … [and that Medicaid is a] dysfunctional system because of federal regulation.
The issue is what Mccormack calls “runaway spending,” which endangers the viability of the actual existing safety net, and that one has to be anti-debt to be anti-poverty, a point regularly made by Paul Ryan. These points, however, do not satisfy liberals like Jonathan Cohn, who simply insist the answer is more expensive and substantive new government programs.
In the meantime, Newt Gingrich — who is not giving in and will be carrying on his campaign until the convention — is arguing that he remains the only sound conservative alternative to Romney. With the forthcoming endorsement of him today by Donald Trump, he gains both a new ally and a possible new source of funding aside from Sheldon Adelson. Moreover, Gingrich is already attacking Romney for yesterday’s gaffe, portraying himself as one who is not seeking to turn classes against each other and who understands the plight of the poor and the middle class.
At present, Romney still polls as the only electable candidate in the general election. That is why William Galston, writing in TNR, warns Democrats “that President Obama faces a tougher reelection campaign than many now think.” Those conservatives who back Newt Gingrich should look at Galston’s meticulous examination of the polls. An addendum to the article Galston posted on January 30 cites the latest Gallup poll of swing state voters:
This morning, Gallup released the latest in its series of polls focused on twelve swing states — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Three results stand out. (1) President Obama blows out Newt Gingrich by 14 points in those states (and 12 points nationally). There is no credible evidence that Gingrich would be competitive with the president, let alone a stronger challenger than Romney. (2) Obama and Romney are statistically tied: it’s Romney 48, Obama 47 in the swing states and 48-48 nationally. And most important, (3): despite changes in the political environment, a more aggressive stance by the president, and the emergence of less than flattering information about Mitt Romney, the Obama-Romney contest hasn’t moved much in many months.
The race, in other words, will be very, very close. A Gingrich nomination would mean the inevitability of an Obama victory in the general race for the presidency. Now, as many pundits have noted, it is possible for both Romney and Gingrich to get to the end of the process with almost an equal amount of delegates, leading then to a brokered convention, and perhaps the entry into the race at the last moment of an as-yet-unannounced candidate.
To avoid this outcome, which could in fact also help Obama in the campaign since he would be facing a fractured and despairing Republican Party, it is important to now unite behind Mitt Romney and prevent further harmful bloodletting. It is also equally important that Romney do some studying and stop himself from further harmful and shortsighted gaffes, in which he has to continually come out and explain to the public what he really meant to say.
If the election is as serious as we say it is, and if we mean it when we proclaim that our country cannot afford another four years of Barack Obama, we have to unite now and stand with Mitt Romney. There is no other wise course that can be taken.
Addendum: 3 p.m. EST
USA Today and the AP confirm that Donald Trump is endorsing Mitt Romney, not Newt Gingrich! This morning, the Gingrich campaign had claimed the opposite, and most news reporters, including John Heilemann on Morning Joe, thought that Trump was backing Gingrich. Obviously, this now mitigates the point I made about Gingrich’s ability to stay in the race. It also indicates a wider support for Romney among those who otherwise might be critical. See: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/onpolitics/post/2012/02/donald-trump-endorse-mitt-romney-newt-gingrich-/1