Tuesday, February 05, 2008
I have to leave for the airport later this morning long before the polls open, so you, the TigerHawk reader, will have to do the voting for both of us, at least if you are going to vote on the Republican side in a Super Tuesday primary.
As I write this, I cling to my often-repeated point of view that -- based on what we have seen so far -- I would be delighted to vote for either Mitt Romney or John McCain in November against either of the Democratic frontrunners. I have not, however, said whom I would support for the Republican nomination if I were to vote in the New Jersey primary, and the fact of my trip and failure to round up an absentee ballot should not relieve me of the burden of decision.
For the reasons set forth below, I support Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination.
I wrote this entire post (except for that last sentence and the title) without knowing how I would come out, so I encourage those of you who are similarly torn to read through it and come to your own conclusions. Regular readers know that as interested as I am in both domestic and foreign policy, I am less attuned to politics than many bloggers, so cut me some slack if I missed some important point that undermines my argument.
For me, the plausible remaining choice is between John McCain and Mitt Romney. As personally appealing as I find Mike Huckabee, I disagree with him on too many issues. He is a social conservative, populist nanny-stater who does not genuinely support a forward foreign policy against radical Islamism, and I am the opposite. Ron Paul disqualifies himself on foreign policy -- his brand of neoisolationism presupposes a very different world than the one in which we live -- and his domestic policy appeals only to the adolescent libertarian in me.
There are at least three angles from which to consider John McCain and Mitt Romney -- character, temperament, leadership, and executive ability; electability; and positions on the issues. All three perspectives are very much in the eye of the beholder; you and I may very well agree on the facts, more or less, but come to different conclusions about their meaning. These are my conclusions.
Character, temperament, leadership, and executive ability
Character. In every life there is something to criticize. John McCain could not make a success of his first marriage, and was the only Republican among the Keating Five. Neither seem to matter much to most voters for two reasons. First, John McCain exhibited such character -- if character is measured as moral strength in the face of adversity or temptation -- during his captivity in Vietnam that most of us feel unqualified to pick at his relatively minor errors since. Second, he has repeatedly taken political risks to defend and advance his side of important policy disputes (e.g., campaign finance reform, immigration, and the Iraq war), and this has reinforced the perception, which I share, that John McCain sticks to his guns even when it is not in his immediate best interest. In this regard, John McCain improves upon one of George W. Bush's most admirable traits, his stubborn determination.
None of this is to imply that there is anything wrong with Mitt Romney's character. It is garden-variety respectable, with nothing to criticize but also nothing to distinguish it. Advantage: McCain.
Temperament. John McCain has an obvious temper, and he leavens it with self-righteousness. A conservative friend of mine persuasively argued in an email the other day that
McCain is a divisive figure who turns every debate his is in into a morality play where he is the hero and the other side the immoral villains.... His latest is to villainize capitalism. But that's just the latest. Anyone who wanted the immigration laws enforced was heartless and wanted to round up 20 million Hispanics. Anyone who questions the disaster that is campaign finance reform wanted politics to be rife with corruption. He opposed the tax cuts as a benefit "for the rich." Romney ran businesses, so that means "some people lost their jobs." On and on it goes.
There are those (including Mrs. TigerHawk) who see McCain's temper as genuine, a glimpse into McCain the person, and the self-righteousness as a sign of much-needed passion. Perhaps, but I worry that both the temper -- beware the angry smile and the disingenuous "my friend" -- and the self-righteousness will hurt McCain during the campaign and make it very hard for him to be effective as president.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has a dispassionate, almost "professional" demeanor. He seems as though he belongs in a conference room running a meeting because, well, he has done it thousands of times. He is tough to provoke into visible anger, which means that it will be harder for Hillary to needle him into a rage and less likely that he will blurt out some hideous gaff as president. Some people may see this as contrived or artificial, but I find it reassuring. Indeed, Romney's dispassionate and analytical style makes me believe that while he is the least likely, perhaps, of the leading candidates of either party to become a great president, he is also the least likely to be a terrible president.Advantage: Romney.
Leadership. We know that both John McCain and Mitt Romney can lead. My sense, admittedly founded more on impression than established fact, is that John McCain is more able to inspire and motivate the people, and that Mitt Romney is more able to lead the executive branch. McCain, in a time of great national adversity (and, lest you are confused, we are not in one now), will have a greater ability to rally the nation. Romney, by virtue of his demonstrated ability to lead large, complex organizations, would be more likely to rally the federal agencies. Because (unlike many people and virtually all Democrats) I do not believe we are in a period of great national adversity, advantage: Romney. But it is close.
Executive ability. This one is not close. Mitt Romney has shown extraordinary executive ability in business, in the non-profit sector, and state government. Romney's abilities in this regard are not, as many lefty critics suggest, merely a reprise of George W. Bush's claim that he was the first president with an MBA. Romney's experiences in this regard overwhelm those of any president since Eisenhower. John McCain, by contrast, has been a Senator for so long we are forced to wonder whether he has any executive ability at all.
These differences are reflected in their different methods for arriving at decisions. Paul Mirengoff nails it, I think:
Romney decides by immersion in "the data." McCain decides based on “instinct” – some combination of a few old-fashioned conservative values (keep government spending down and our defense strong); generalizations from his experience (e.g., torture didn't work on me, so waterboarding should be outlawed); and whatever he happens to pick up from people of various persuasions whom he happens to respect.
Instinct can trump data mining at times, especially with respect to decisions that fall within the decisionmaker's area of expertise. It did so with respect to the surge. However, as I put it a few days ago, "a president who consistently relies on instinct and pooh-poohs data is likely to make major mistakes. Unless one thinks McCain is a genius (and I don't), we'd probably be better off with Romney's approach to making decisions.”
Now, there are those who do not believe that executive ability is important in the White House, or that talent can make up for a lack of experience, or that leadership is much more important than executive function. I disagree. If we learned anything from the insider accounts of the Clinton and Bush years, it is that weak executive ability in the president can be a big problem.Advantage: Romney.
Both Mitt Romney and John McCain can beat both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, at least if they run perfect campaigns and get some lucky breaks besides. However, I believe that McCain would have a comparative advantage running against Hillary, and Romney would have a comparative advantage running against Obama.
If Hillary is the Democratic nominee, McCain's character -- his willingess to take and defend positions at great personal and professional cost -- will give him enormous leverage over Hillary Clinton. Her great weakness is the lingering and justified perception that she is willing to make any compromise with her principles or with her enemies to gain and maintain power. McCain and his shadow proxies will be able to hammer away at the electorate's now manifest uneasiness over the Clinton's rather legendary "pragmatism".
Unfortunately, McCain would have no such advantage over Obama. His skeletons are few, and he has avoided alienating, well, anybody. If there is a single candidate who can claim to be a "uniter, not a divider," at least in his rhetoric and campaign strategy, it is Barack Obama. Republicans should be very worried that Obama will look too attractive and be too, well, cool standing next to the white-haired McCain.
Mitt Romney will have no obvious advantage over Hillary Clinton. Yes, he is almost certainly more honest, but can make no special claim to have overcome adversity and can tell no story to convert into poetic advantage against the Clintons. Indeed, the fact that Romney has been tagged, fairly or not, with being a flip-flopper even after having been born on third base suggests that he is more willing to compromise in the service of his ambition than he ought to be. Finally, Clinton can neutralize Romney's superior executive talent with her very deep knowledge of Washington's ways and eight years at the heart of the Clinton administration. She can claim to understand both the Congress and the executive branch, which differentiates her from every other candidate of both parties.
However, Romney has a better chance against Obama than McCain does. Yes, Romney does look like "the guy who fires you" (in Mike Huckabee's words), but he can distinguish himself from Obama in two important ways. First, he can credibly make the case that he knows how to run large organizations. There is no evidence that Obama has the first clue how to do that. Second, Romney is far smarter on domestic policy issues than McCain, particularly as they relate to business and health care. Romney can turn himself into the safe, technocratic alternative for voters in the middle who worry that Obama is too left wing, or that he will screw up, or that he does not actually know what he is talking about. Advantage: Draw.
In general, I think fine distinctions "on the issues" are a grossly overrated means for distinguishing between candidates within a political party. The arcane fights between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama over healthcare are real, at one level, but they are also trivial compared to the differences between both of them, on the one hand, and all the Republicans, on the other. The same goes for the differences between Romney and McCain on most of the issues that matter to me. That said, some of their positions on the issues might help us predict how they would behave under certain circumstances.
Iraq. Both Romney and McCain support President Bush's policy in Iraq, but John McCain is more likely to sustain it over the period of time necessary to achieve my victory conditions (the transnational jihad permanently interdicted in Iraq and Iran substantially contained, in both cases at the behest of a reasonably representative Iraqi government that generally supports American geopolitical objectives in the region). This is because he shares George W. Bush's cussedness, and because with regard to war McCain has a certain cred with the American voter and our military that Mitt Romney (or either Democrat) does not have. One gets the sense that Romney could flip-flop on Iraq if continuation of the war became too inconvenient for him, even if it remained in America's best geopolitical interest (an assumption that I understand many people do not share). Advantage: McCain.
The wider war against radical Islam. If his web site is any indication, Mitt Romney is more serious and comprehensive in his strategy for the wider war than John McCain. He emphasizes the jihadi threat in his speeches, and he features them prominently on his web site. Perhaps most importantly, he seems very willing to wage "lawfare" against Islamic terrorism; not only did he suggest that we "double Guantanamo" rather than shut it down, but back in 2005 he earned the ire of the chattering classes by suggesting that we needed to investigate mosques that preach Islamic militancy. Because I believe -- as Mitt Romney apparently does -- that the war against Islamic terrorism requires a comprehensive and determined response including an aggressive legal strategy, on this issue Romney has the advantage.
McCain-Feingold and judicial appointments. Much as I dislike McCain-Feingold on its substance, it is not in and of itself the end of the world. However, it does reveal a disdain for traditional constitutional rights and a faith in regulation, both of which trouble me. Add to that the Gang of 14 pact on judicial confirmations (which I supported after the fact), and you have to wonder whether John McCain will appoint strong conservatives to the federal bench. I believe Mitt Romney will appoint and fight for the confirmation of better judges than John McCain (including, by the way, judges who would strike down McCain-Feingold). Advantage: Romney.
Business and the economy. John McCain has never been in business, and one gets the sense that he does not genuinely respect business as a calling. Mitt Romney does. There is considerable evidence that John McCain does not have an intuitive sense of economic or commercial matters. Romney does. Finally, McCain's passion for campaign-finance regulation reveals a faith in regulation that is very disturbing. America's great competitive advantage is the sheer speed with which the American economy adjusts to dislocation. Virtually all regulation, however salutory, makes it more difficult for business to change quickly. Sarbanes-Oxley, as written and enforced, is a huge wasteful load. Mitt Romney understands that. There is no evidence that John McCain does. Advantage: Romney.
There are other "issues" and more will come up as the progresses, but these dominate all the others, not because one candidate has explained his position in more arcane detail than the other, but for what their positions reveal about how they will act and react in general.
This post took more than two hours to write, and it helped me sort through my own very muddled thinking about these two candidates. While I will happily support either Mitt Romney or John McCain in the general election, I have decided that I would vote for Mitt Romney on Super Tuesday.
This kind of thoughtful, well reasoned post is why I have read you all these years, "my friend"
- John McCain... err... Cass
PS: Of course it will hardly surprise you to learn that I agree with you 100%
Full marks :)
In my business we sell in 40 odd states, and we're audited by sales tax people, threatened regularly by franchise tax collectors, written to by corporate tax authorities, bothered endlessly without compunction by tax auditors of every stripe. We're a piggy bank, to be broken at will.
John McCain has convinced me he doesn't understand how hard it is to run a business, and he's convinced me that he thinks tax policy is something you negotiate with the Congress. He loses my vote right there.
"In this regard, John McCain improves upon one of George W. Bush's most admirable traits, his stubborn determination."
The difference to me being that McCain has shown a willingness to be petty and disrespectful in his determination to have his positions realized. It's an offshoot of the well known McCain temper that you spoke of, and I don't know if he can handle a General election without saying something we'll all regret. Also, it is worth mentioning that the bulk of his scorn has been aimed at Republicans. Passion doesn't excuse any of that. We're in search of a Presidential candidate, not a Hollywood leading man.
As for the rest of your analysis, I think I'm inclined to agree. I believe that Obama will be a huge problem for either potential Republican nominee, if for no other reason than the media casting him as a force of nature. To me, McCain loses his advantage on national security over Guantanamo. It seems to nullify every good thing he's done for the war effort in Iraq.
McCain strikes as a guy who would make an able decisive commander.
Unfortunately, a president doesn't get to do a whole lot of commanding. He has to lead, persuade, cajole, and convince. I don't see the patience in McCain for all that. Further, I feel that some of his first principles are wrong, and being a very principles man, I don't see him budging from them regardless of the outcry. For example, I think he would have stuck with Harriet Myers to the bitter end had he been president.
Romney I think, is more someone who can push policy through, without ramming down your throat. His positions may be a bit flexible, but by and large he seems like someone who'll dance with the one that brung him.
well...reasonable people can disagree about much of what you wrote TH.
I think the electability issue is the exception. I think you're off the mark on that one.
If Obama "pins the tail on the donkey" so to speak...it's curtains (McCain/Romney don't matter).
And Hillary's motherly embrace would be a nice foil against Romney's professionalism and magagerial approach.
ADVANTAGE (if any) McCain.
(full disclosure: I'm a McCain supporter from all the way back to 2000)
Thank you TH for sharing your excellent analysis with us. To me it's really a terrible choice. My first thought is, "can't we just put these two guys in a blender?" My second thought is, "Is there something I could put in a blender?"
Damn Rudy, why did you have to screw things up so totally.
I still don't know who I'll vote for except that like others here, either one in November gets my vote.
My only quarrel with the TH analysis is on electability. I think Huckabee nailed it. At the end of the day, people are going to vote for the one they like. That, of course, is why Hillary can be bumped. Against Obama, Romney, in my opinion, who epitomizes mainstream perfection right down the line will be shown the back of the bus. Only someone equally off color, so to speak, someone a little too old and too short, someone clearly overmatched in good lighting, will stand a chance of a favorable contrast---if for no other reason than having the audacity to contest things. Then it will come down to performance in a campaign.
McCain is such a crap shoot. I agree that Romney would probably be a decent President (more like Bush I than any other I can think of), and Mac could be a real loser.
But a bigger loser than Barak or Hillary with a Democratic Congress?
Do I vote my heart or mind? The guy that could have had both is gone. Although my heart goes out to both Mitt and Mac, neither one of them wins it.
My mind says, if only one can win in November, vote for that one. I could be so wrong about this, and the truth will never be known, but at this point my mind argues that Mac has a better chance.
Mr. McCain looks better now than he will in a general election, thanks to his special status as the press's go-to "maverick". I explored this more in a recent post.
Think you have pretty much nailed down this situation.
I should note that I think it is about 2 to 1 that Hillary will get the nomination because she is willing to start a race war, and to track down and kill "super" delegates.*
About 20% of the delegates to the Democrat convention are ex-officio rather than elected for the occasion.
McCain's status as the favorite maverick of the unaffiliated is purley a product of the media, who noticed his colorful personality and saved him from Keating 5 disgrace. A McCain campaign is completely defenseless against a NY Times, WashPost, LA Times, etc that decides to destroy his political career the second he is officially the Republican candidate against a "history-making" Democrat presidency. Electability: Advantage, Romney.
I have no expectation that Romney would be an inspiring president. Not that he can't - I just don't know. But with McCain, I do know that over the course of 2 terms he will alienate political allies and foreign /military allies (that's what it means when he's called a "maverick" - that he has a reputation for attacking his friends), that he will demonize and try to destroy those who disagree with whatever his next obsessive crusade is, and that he will not have any basis on which t make sound economic policy decisions. Romney is boring? Maybe. But McCain is scary.
Character, temperament, leadership: Advantage Romney
I agree with your conclusion (but I am Decline to State, so I don't get to vote here in California).
1. I am told by reliable sources on the Dem side of the aisle that McCain's colleagues from the POW community are not all that happy with him. Expect a SwiftBoat-type group to appear. Whether they will be successful is the question. I should add that I think the original SwiftBoat group against Kerry was effective and truthful.
2. As to Paul Miregoff's opinion of "data mining" - well he must have loved Jimmy Carter.
Since the White House is really the bully pulpet, I just wish Rommney were a more inspiring speaker.
I find your distinction between the Iraq war and the larger war against radical Islam very interesting. Concerning Romney's interest in utilitizing "lawfare", someone at the Volokh Conspiracy noted some time ago the excellence of the Romney's team of legal advisors.
I worry that McCain's firmness against perceived enemies would be turned against him by the press (which has often treated him more kindly than other Republicans) during the general election. I can imagine a portrayal of his willingness to stay in Iraq for a hundred years as a variation on Bush's "Unilateral Cowboy Diplomacy". I can also imagine Hillary Clinton sounding reasonable to moderates in contrast.
I´m also going with Romney, but it is by a 45-55 kind of margin.
The thing about most CEOs is that they do not want to get into anything unless they can judge the outcome with some certainty. It´s not their job. My guess about Romney is that he will be a cautious and calculating decisionmaker, always ready to revise his tactics at the first sign of trouble. He is plainly not an ideologue or political animal. This can be a good thing, of course. But there are war-type situations where you have to make decisons without a lot of data (or with bad data, as we have seen in the past) and then stick with your choice and make the best of it. Hard to say how Romney will fare in such a scenario.
There are a couple of areas that concern me about McCain:
1) He is a darling to the left media now, but that will change and all of the stories of his bad temper and colorful language will become conventional wisdom by November and all of his media admirers will dub him as the "madman."
2) One reason why a Senator can be a good Executive is because they know everyone's hot buttons. They know how the "system" works. Think of G.W.'s early failings, mostly due to his unwillingness to work with the "institution" (guys like McCain.) He refused to meet with leaders of the House and Senate and he made decrees catching his own party off-guard. While guys like LBJ got more pushed through congress then any other President (irrespective of the policy) based on his understanding of both houses. With McCain I worry that he has alienated so many with his temper that his ability to drive his agenda may get stalled based on past offenses?
3) I think Romney is finding his voice. Every time I see him talk he is getting more clear about who he is and what he stands for. It kind of sucks that we have to watch it as it happens versus something he believes in his core. I also think that there is a political reality that Romney does not get a pass for. Had he gone too hard on the conservative front he never would have been elected Governor of Mass.
I personally think that if Romney pulls off the Republican nomination it will be by sheer will and planning (oh...and his own personal war chest.) I would not count him out against anyone on the Dem side for that reason alone. By the way, those conservative flaps that he has had along the way, actually mean something to people who are on the fence. They want to believe that the guy they are voting for is reasonable.
Thank you for your thoughtful and reasoned essay. I reached the same conclusion, but a little more directly, relying on just three factors:
1. Endorsements. The New York Times hates everything I love. They love John McCain. Think about it.
2. Legislation. McCain-Feingold. McCain-Kennedy. McCain-Lieberman. Notice a pattern?
3. Temperament. Aside from the persistent and petty personal digs at Romney, McCain, by all accounts, harbors a volatile temper and mercurial personality. Do we really want that finger on the button?
I'm for Romney. I can't trust Mccain. I'm a little too young to recall the Keating 5, but I've been hearing about this temper and vindictiveness for years. And, as someone noted above: McCain-Feingold, McCain-Kennedy, McCain-Lieberman. And he has two open-borders types on this campaign staff: he hasn't changed his ultimate goal of giving all these illegal aliens amnesty. And, he wants to close Gitmo, move them to the US and give unlawful combatants Constitutional rights. If McCain is the (R) nominee, I've got some serious thinking to do. Will the Republicans in Congress fight a President McCain on liberal legislation? I'm not so sure...
Thoughtful and well-reasoned, indeed, TH. Unfortunately, these qualities count for nothing in an election. The masses put their trust in the perceived character of a leader, not in his (or her) party or policies. Based on those perceptions, McCain is the only remaining Republican who has a chance against Clinton -- and neither has a chance against Obama.
well done Tigerhawk...
i see many are simply going to push McCain, in a mimic to 1976 or 1996.
i feel it is truly foolish, as the best Candidate, and the most competitive in the General is Mr. Romney.
unfortunately, i see enormous bias, not only for the Mormon, but the success in the private sector.
i have never experienced so much mindless expression from those who call themselves, 'conservative'.
but such is life...
Mr. McCain's slander of Mr. Romney in Florida and at the Reagan Library, will make it nearly impossible for me to support McCain in the general.
but i don't think it matters, as he will lose to Hillary or Obama without my humble efforts.
I supported McCain in 2000, but he has been petty and vindictive since then, and has lost a lot of luster for me.
I think McCain-Feingold was a loser solution to a real problem, and abhor the demagoguary that accompanied it.
I was for Fred, then Rudy and now, somewhat reluctantly for McCain. I just can't warm up to Romney, despite all the indicators that say I should support him. He seems just too plastic, too malleable, too willing to adopt whatever policy seems most expedient at the moment.
I would hope that after the nominees are determined, we could have a contest based on where the candidates stand on the issues that confront us, but given the state of media coverage in the US today, that would be a vain hope - mostly because if it did happen, either McCain or Romney would mop up the floor with whomever the dems would offer up, particularly their two front-runners.
This is well-reasoned and provides many points for use in argument. My only problem with it is in the discussion about "Issues", specifically that on "Business and the economy."
Three candidates - Mac, Mitt and Hill, will to some extent continue the GWOT and operations in Iraq (Barry will pull us out of Iraq and maybe Afgh. ASAP; he's as blind as Huck or RonP on national security).
However, two candidates - Mac and Hill - will through their policies on spending, taxes and "global warming" throw the US economy into recession prefiguring actual economic decline. When the Federal deficit hits say $750 B/year, the "bipartisan" calls to "end our foreign military adventures" will be deafening (as will calls to further increase taxes, thereby accelerating economic decline). The GWOT (bad name) will end, no matter how desirous Mac or Hill are to continue the fight. There will be no additional strengthening of our military. Our hour of predominance on the stage of world history will be coming to an end.
Power doesn't spring from the barrel of a gun. It springs from the economic might of a nation, which buys guns and bullets. Mitt is the only one who might comprehend this and actually take action to increase our economic power, and thus sustain or enhance our military might. One cannot be sure of this, but he's the only one that has interest, training and experience in things financial and economic. For that reason alone, I will support only Mitt until he wins or withdraws. If the latter occurs, I may be willing to let "the girl" or "the agent of change" take the hit. After only four years, maybe some new Prez can turn things around and save the day.
It's time all good conservatives open their wallets and checkbooks and support Mitt in the fashion that Dems are shelling out for Barry.