The Election Before the Election
Let me tell you a political story. Terrible opener for a first date—trust me—but I think it works in a newspaper. The Republicans are nominating their candidate to face an incumbent Democratic president. A man swept into office by his personal charm, but who has seen that glamor tarnished by high unemployment and a public opinion moodier than Kris Jenner. The GOP frontrunner, conversely, is a blue-state Republican who flip-flopped on abortion.
That story would be from 1980, and the primary race that churned out Ronald Reagan to lay an electoral smack down on president Jimmy Carter.
Before all my fellow conservatives have a hernia and stone me for blaspheming the name of Reagan, I’ll clarify – Mitt Romney is no Ronald Reagan. Though he does have the hair—and the assuring, resonant speaking voice.
Arkansas Republicans still have some reservations about our presumptive nominee. And, by the time we vote on “Super Tuesday, (May 22), Romney’s momentum will be well on its way to taking the whole kit and caboodle. In the meantime, it is worth comparing Mitt and his record to the rest of the candidates. It’s like eating in Brough cafeteria—even if the pizza doesn’t look great, just compare it to the tofu stir-fry.
First, there’s Mitt, coming fresh off a big win in New Hampshire. Gallup polls show that there are still twice as many self-identified conservatives as liberals in America, and a Republican candidate needs them to get nominated.
A lot of conservatives are scared of his health care plan in Massachusetts, the sheer fact that he lived in Massachusetts, and his appeal to moderates. Some like punchy TEA-party-rally-style speeches that end with calls to abolish half the federal government, end the fed and privatize Mount Rushmore, which, frankly, sounds like a great idea to me -they need to build some restaurants or something to make it worth the drive. Listen to Mitt talk in 2008 and it feels like you just ran a pie chart through a laminating machine.
This time around he stepped up his game. His victory speech in New Hampshire was a scathing series of one-liners that contrasted his platform with Obama. He has a penchant for economics, and uses that to plug his job creation plans at every opportunity. He loves to say that he has faith in people while Obama has faith in government.
But his strongest rebuttal to critics on the right may be his ability to govern right-of-center in one of the most radically leftist states in the union. Romney answers half his criticisms from conservatives by explaining that he was not hired in Austin or Atlanta. Judicial appointments? Had to be approved by Democrats. More tax cuts? Needed to coax the liberal legislature. Gun control? He is an NRA member who tried to roll back a heavily anti-gun state.
Still, he inherited a budget deficit and eliminated it without raising tax rates. The conservative Club for Growth credits “tremendous spending cuts he forced down the legislature’s throat,” and says he fought to cut his state’s tax rates.
We balance all that, of course, against his problems, like a health care mandate and some technocrat tendencies that set him at odds with what we in the vast right-wing conspiracy call “movement conservatives.”
That is enough to bother us, so we shop around a bit, first looking at Newt Gingrich. Newt is a former Speaker of the House, and a Ph.D. historian who waxes poetic about Jefferson and makes you want to listen to him narrate an audiocassette tour of a Civil War battlefield while you eat frozen lemonade. But, his reputation of being an erratic leader in the 90’s endures today. That was the era when his personal scandals appalled conservatives, and his Republican colleagues forced him out of leadership for his irascible temperament.
Then there’s the plucky sweater-vest guy, Rick Santorum—or Andy Samburg from SNL, as you may know him. He virtually tied the first caucus in Iowa, but he was known for being a big spender in Washington, and spent his last re-election bid as Pennsylvania’s Senator getting trampled like a Walmart greeter on Black Friday.
By the time we’re done, it’s worth scaling back this quixotic quest for a patron saint of the Republican Party. Students are concerned about jobs when the graduate and federal debt they will inherit. Facing these challenges doesn’t require a Ronald Reagan, it just requires a president who is willing to empower people, not expand the federal government.
Will Simpson is a sophomore economics and finance major, and a columnist for the Arkansas Traveler.