People have talked for months, perhaps years, about Mitt Romney’s inconsistencies, about how they feel uncertain as to what position Romney would hold on a particular issue. The story is getting old and tired, but allow me to summarize: for Romneycare, then against the very similar Obamacare; pro-choice, then anti-abortion; pro-gay marriage, then favoring a constitutional definition of marriage.
There are other criticisms of Romney out there: too cautious, too plastic, too “moderate.”
But somehow I remain about as confident in Mitt Romney’s predictability as in Newt Gingrich’s, which is to say not as confident as I’d like but more than confident enough to support him in the general election.
Mr. Gingrich is a good speaker and debater, if prone to occasionally engaging his mouth before his brain. (To be sure, he seems quite focused on rhetorical self-discipline of late.) He’s a tremendous self-promoter; yes, all politicians must be, but Mr. Gingrich is particularly adept.
And he certainly plays a conservative on TV.
But Mr. Gingrich has had at least as many and at least as large changes on policy views as Mitt Romney has.
He was for an individual health care mandate before being against it (while blaming his view on the Heritage Foundation, which does indeed have some responsibility here). He was for some version of cap and trade before he was against it. (Cap and trade would be even more damaging to our nation than Obamacare is.) He was, apparently for profit, for Freddie Mac before he was against it. And I still don’t really understand his positions on U.S. involvement in Libya.
Despite all this, and despite not being able to entirely disagree with Jon Stewart’s assertion that Newt has a certain “dickishness,” I can’t say that I prefer Romney to Gingrich by enough to commit to him. I can say that the argument that Gingrich is somehow the true conservative while Romney is the faux-conservative rings hollow.
One of the most common questions you’ll hear these days in political discussions among Republicans is whether they’re more focused on electability or on principle. (I’m focused on the former, whereas I was focused on the latter in 2008.) The common wisdom throughout this cycle has been that electability is Romney’s strong suit and Gingrich’s Achilles’ heel.
However, even this question is now a head-scratcher. In a CBS News poll released Tuesday, “31 percent of likely Iowa caucus-goers said Gingrich had the best chance among the current GOP field to defeat President Barack Obama in 2012. Twenty-nine percent said Romney had the best chance.” Given that Iowa’s likely caucus-goers are much more conservative than the general population, one must somewhat discount their view on who is most electable in terms of its being representative of the broader electorate.
A pair of recent national polls by Rasmussen Reports shows Gingrich ahead of President Obama by two points, but Obama ahead of Romney by two points. It was the first poll by a major polling company during this entire cycle that showed Gingrich beating Obama, and it was the worst showing for Romney versus Obama in several weeks (among the polls included in the RealClearPolitics average).
However, a poll taken of voters in the very important state of Florida during the same time frame by the liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling showed Romney one point behind Obama, but Gingrich six points behind.
Dick Morris has taken on the issue, to suggest that if your focus is conservatism, you probably are for Newt, whereas if your focus is on the economy and jobs, you probably are for Mitt, saying of Romney that “this guy really understands jobs… He would probably be the best president we ever had when it comes to the economy.” He also notes that a conservative Congress would keep Romney in line if he were to drift leftward.
But “Gingrich on the other hand is a reliable social conservative and a very creative one.” Morris says that while Newt can get too creative for his own good, Gingrich would be “the most intelligent president we’ve had since John Kennedy.”
Morris’s point is that the choice of candidate “really depends less on the candidates than on you. Is your chief priority in this thing turning the economy around and bringing us back to a really good, healthy long-term posture of economic growth? Or is your priority undoing the left-wing radical social-engineering agenda of the Obama presidency?”
My kingdom for a candidate who is truly credible on both, but my chief priority is giving Jimmy Carter II the same amount of time in office as Jimmy Carter I.
For voters like for me whose motivation is nothing more and nothing less than making sure Barack Obama is not re-elected, Morris offers this: “Clearly Romney would have a better chance of winning than Gingrich would. The very things that make him difficult as a sell in the primary, the Romneycare, abortion, and that stuff, make him more acceptable in a general election.… But I believe that with Obama messing up as he’s doing.… Gingrich also could beat Obama, so I don’t think that it’s an automatic vote for Romney simply because he would have the better chance.”
And here is the crux of the matter. If you believe that Morris is right that Romney and Gingrich may both be electable, but that Romney’s chances are measurably better, is it really worth increasing your risk of a second Obama presidency in order to get a president who is, in my view, only slightly more conservative? I think not, but I will keep listening to the debates and the candidates’ other public statements to see if perhaps my perception of the electability of either man changes substantially.
A couple other points on electability: The strength of voters’ desire for a less polarized relationship between Congress and the White House, i.e. the “can’t we all just get along” crowd, could be a major factor. Voters, especially independents and moderate Republicans, who are old enough to remember the Clinton/Gingrich years, the government shutdown, the intense partisanship (which continues unabated today) may lean toward Romney’s more cooperative persona. Hard-core conservatives who are itching for a fight they can win may side with Gingrich.
Furthermore, one has to wonder whether a Gingrich nomination would bring Bill Clinton into the race, not just in people’s minds, but also in terms of letting Clinton hit the campaign trail for Democrats regaling crowds with his personal stories about Gingrich. It is a remarkable thing to say, but our current president and, sadly, even our prior president, make the Clinton years look like a paradigm of good government and fiscal discipline, blue dresses notwithstanding. Clinton will work hard to make sure that he, rather than Gingrich, gets the credit; it would be an incredible ongoing debate to watch. I doubt Republicans want to run even a little bit against Bill Clinton but a Gingrich nomination would make that scenario likely.
Hard-core conservatives may be a majority in many GOP primaries and caucuses but are a distinct minority in a general election. If Gingrich wins the nomination on their strength, they will have to stick with their man as he moves slightly to the center prior to November 2012. Romney is probably acceptable to moderates as he is… which is why conservatives are so hesitant to support him. Again, we will have to decide whether we want the more conservative candidate or the more electable candidate. I wonder what William F. Buckley would say about this match-up.
When the nominee is chosen, even if whomever of the two (I do believe this is now a two-man race) I end up supporting doesn’t win, I will gladly support the other. Both are good men despite their much-discussed flaws, both far better for our nation than our current president, and both deserving of the support of all Americans whose motivation is to return our nation at least slightly back down the path of limited government and liberty.
Notice to Readers: The American Spectator and Spectator World are marks used by independent publishing companies that are not affiliated in any way. If you are looking for The Spectator World please click on the following link: https://spectatorworld.com/.