Is Romney the best possible outcome?

Several weeks ago, I noted that candidates had thus far seemed unwilling to attack Rick Perry despite his long and questionable record as governor of Texas. There were many items ripe for vicious attacks: examples of crony capitalism, executing an innocent man, dubious claims about his jobs record in Texas, and policies that may not have gone so well with the extreme parts of his base who have directed the nomination process thus far. Much has changed since then. From immigration to government-mandated vaccinations to Social Security, most of the candidates found reasons to attack Perry. Meanwhile, aside from some one-on-one exchanges with Perry, Mitt Romney seems to have come out of each of the last 3 debates unscathed, with few questioning his record.

Many liberals seem pleased with the fact that Rick Perry may no longer be the front-runner in the race. There’s an air of gloom among supporters of Obama (both the reluctant and enthusiastic), many of whom feel that he will likely lose the election next year. And so, the sentiment goes, why not cheer when a very unpalatable Republican like Rick Perry falls? Many are silently hoping that Mitt Romney and not Rick Perry will win the nomination, seeing him as the least evil of the contenders, someone they could possibly stomach as president. Yet there is reason to question this line of thinking.

First, Romney, for the very reasons mentioned above, would be a stronger contender against Obama in the general election. His experience with business at a time when jobs are scarce will likely persuade so-called independents, if we are to disregard for a moment the truth behind his job-creation claims. In a head-to-head battle against Obama, Perry would likely falter under increased scrutiny on his record and his outrageously extreme views on Social Security. This should give liberals some pause in rooting for Romney, if the best outcome in the next election is for Obama to win re-election.

Second, there is the implicit assumption that Romney would be a reasonable president, which could very well be mistaken. The very part of his record that leaves many Republicans cold (see his flip-flopping on numerous issues like abortion and health care) seems to give liberals the idea that he would be a moderate president. In other words, they assume that Romney is a pragmatist.

In reality, Romney is not a pragmatist; he is an opportunist. Let me clarify: perhaps if we were to peer into Romney’s soul, we would find a pragmatic man, but his political and governing instincts, which is what we observe and care about as citizens, are purely opportunistic. He has repeated and committed himself to the same economic ideas every other Republican candidate has talked about. After initially stating that the Obama stimulus in 2009 probably accelerated the recovery, Romney’s paperback edition of “No Apology” called it a failure. His economic plan includes a cap on government spending at 20% of GDP. If the question is whether he will follow-through on these ideas, we have to ask what will motivate Romney if he is in office. If history should teach us anything, it’s that beliefs will not motivate him, and his base will. That includes the Republicans in the House and Senate, many of whom seemed to think defaulting was a good idea in July and early August, and many of whom have asked for an amendment capping spending at 18% of GDP a year. He has to work with these same people that Obama has worked with. And he will work with them to be re-elected in 2016, if he is elected president. Romney’s flip-flopping should not fool people into thinking he would govern as a moderate; he would likely be anything but.

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