October 12, 2011 35 Comments
It’s a rookie mistake to predict early in politics. Too many electoral variables and too many unpredictable missteps, scandals and cheery assassinations counsel modesty in political predictions. It is a prerogative of the blogosphere, however, to be immodest. It’s one of the things that makes us spectacular and stupid and perfectly content to be routinely both, always knowing we can shade the latter into forgotten land with yet more gushing immodesty on safer topics. And so…
I believe Mitt Romney will be our next president. I watched the Republican presidential debate on Bloomberg Tuesday evening and what a rollicking and fascinating insight into the vastly more interesting American political party. I loved the format — strictly limited to economic issues, as befits the Bloomberg network, which produced a little more depth of discussion, even if sexy issues like immigration and evolution were off the table, and a segment where candidates asked each other questions, mostly pointed.
Mitt Romney was manifestly presidential. The man has evidently thought about everything, and he has the gift of signaling that he has thought about everything with short and succinct statements that connect with a range of sensibilities. (Lover of irony? Romney probably had a five-word ironic parenthetical in his 30-second response.)
I was a John McCain fan in 2008. I didn’t like Romney. But he has converted what sounded slick and glib in 2008 to what sounds thoughtful and more sincere in 2011. That’s an accomplishment. Here are the reasons I predict a President Romney inauguration in January 2013.
1. Romney will likely prevail in the Republican primary, despite being suspect among the deeper right wing. First, he keeps winning debates, and Republicans, notwithstanding their rants, like winners. Second, his challengers keep making this or that mistake or faux pas or squandered opportunity — and he doesn’t. Third, he’s gracious toward his challengers (even when they’re pointedly not), which signals the luxury of a front-runner’s diplomacy. In short, he’s not angering any of the Republican base, even as he systematically adds to his own.
2. He’s been running for president for six years and has gotten remarkably good at it. And that’s not just cynicism. Thinking about issues to the obvious extent he has makes him competent at the American political game to a degree that dwarfs the other candidates. As Rick Perry was forced to acknowledge, somewhat pathetically, when he promised a “plan” in due course but not yet, Romney has been doing this for six years while he had been at it only for a few weeks. Yes, and it shows.
3. The Herman Cain surge is fascinating on so many levels, but unlikely to dislodge Romney’s nomination win. Cain is straight-talking and gifted at the sound-bite, but has no political or governance experience — much like the Democratic party’s candidate in 2008. As intriguing and increasingly popular as he is, Republican primary voters will ultimately be loathe to nominate a candidate who has precisely the same defect they’d like to be able to level at the incumbent: inexperience and what that produces.
4. Rick Perry just didn’t think through what being a presidential candidate was all about — maybe because there had never been a President Perry to shepherd his steps as there had been for Dubya. Romney keeps making Perry look like a sticks challenger.
5. Assuming the primary win, onto the general election, where Mitt Romney will get to be even more essentially Mitt Romney than he is currently permitted to be in the primary. That’s because Mitt Romney really is an inclusive candidate and really does thrive at bringing people together — a quality of particular importance to independents. He was the Republican governor of Massachusetts, one of the bluest states in the nation. He understands, in a way that none of the other Republican candidates understands, and that the sitting president didn’t understand coming into the job (and hasn’t demonstrated a gift for learning on the job), how to forge genuine bipartisan connections and make things happen for which credit could be generously spread. Romney has worked successfully with both sides of the aisle in a way that no one else in this election ever has. (Perry and Huntsman governed Republican states, and while they’ve enjoyed some bipartisan success, they don’t hold a candle to Romney.)
6. When an election is as profoundly about the economy as this one, Romney’s claim to understand, from both a businessman’s and a governor’s perspective, how to create jobs, resonates. As to both business experience and governorship, Romney massively trumps Obama.
7. Romney passionately wants the presidency, in a way that is oddly difficult to see in our current president. I happen to like Obama. I think he’s a smart and interesting man. But I think he got swept into national politics prematurely, and I think maybe even he wonders at times why he did this odd thing of becoming president. Being a Texas native, I’m reminded of Ann Richards, Texas governor from 1991 to 1995, and unseated by George W. Bush. I remember her reelection campaign, and how I was struck by the dullness and apathy of her campaign ads, which seemed to say, vote for me or not whatever. These were her campaign ads, not a speech to a chamber of commerce. She lost. President Obama signals something vaguely similar, a going-through-the-motions rah-rah about it all. Romney wins that dynamic.
8. In the general election, Romney’s difficulties with the right wing of the Republican party become plusses. Independents will like the fact that Romney didn’t appeal to the overly-caricatured Republican base. This is not because Romney is not a true conservative. He is. It’s because conservatives are innately suspicious and broadly circulate their suspicions. Good for the political dialogue. And good for the gradual American education in ideology versus actual governance. Conservatives are actually getting to second grade here, where liberals languish in kindergarten. Independents, most of whom are in junior high school or higher, will like Romney’s un-ideological focus.
9. But he’s a Mormon! Precisely. Give him his three wives. Kudos to the Democrats and the American people for electing our first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, who privileged the Pope over the Constitution. I think we’re ready for a Mormon. And the fact that it’s a first takes a bit of the sting out of not re-electing our other first.
10. And speaking of our other first, on a delicate matter, to paraphrase Tina Turner, what’s race got to do with it, got to do with it? Right after the huge Republican victory in 2010, I counseled sobriety, despite being drunk, and said President Obama was on track to win re-election using a triangulation strategy. I’ve also said Americans would be loathe to fire their first African-American president. As it happens, he hasn’t done triangulation very well, hasn’t even seemed to have his heart in the rudimentary effort. Moreover, he hasn’t been “post-racial,” as promised. Quite the contrary. Meanwhile, Republicans have gotten excited about the Herman Cain candidacy, despite initial skepticism, and proven that Republicans aren’t the incorrigible racists of Democratic party narratives. Indeed, the Tea Party — preposterously reviled as “racist” by Democrats — has gotten especially excited by Herman Cain. And while I don’t believe Herman Cain will be the nominee, he will enthusiastically support the nominee. African-Americans will overwhelmingly vote for Barack Obama, but Herman Cain undermines one persistent ridiculous racial stereotype, and that is good for America — and incidentally good for Mitt Romney’s presidential bid.
I’m getting used to President Romney. I could be massively wrong. But that’s how I’m thinking.
UPDATE (10/13/2011): On #9, it was a ham-fisted joke, intended to invoke the bigotry JFK confronted in his presidential race (e.g., a protest sign that read, “We don’t want the Kremlin or the Vatican“). I’m making fun of the bigotry (of course Mormons don’t do polygamy, but see HBO’s Big Love), but it’s not actually funny. Back in June, according to a Gallup poll, 18% of Republicans and independents said they would not vote for a Mormon — and 27% of Democrats said the same. Got that? I mean really got that?