In London this summer we will really hear the cry “let the games begin,” but they will, of course, be referring to the 2012 summer Olympics. What we refer to in this essay is the American presidential election. The game has now begun in earnest. Mitt Romney who, for six years has fought through more than thirty debates, built a superb organization and spent a tremendous portion of hard earned wealth, is now the unofficial head of the Republican Party. The question is whether or not he can translate that leadership into being elected president. The Republicans have been beating up on each other for well over a year now, and they had better draw together and start helping their expected nominee if they expect to win the presidency. They have handed President Obama all of his applause lines and more than a few video clips for his fall campaign. All of the phony issues of fairness and class warfare and the Warren Buffet rule, etc. will now come back and be used over and over again until November. The President has already been using this as his strategy, and who can blame him since the GOP candidates have attacked each other unmercifully.
Governor Romney will need to overcome many obstacles, not the least of which is a hostile press. For example, on April 16 Fox’s local affiliate in Washington reported that the first Gallup poll has Governor Romney with 45% and President Obama with 43%. It then reported Romney saying “start packing your bags.” NBC nightly news reported only the “packing your bags” remark with no mention of the Gallup poll that prompted the comment.
One of Mr. Romney’s real problems is that Americans don’t seem to have connected with him. He is a good-looking man, he has a wonderful family, everybody kind of likes him, but without passion, and they seem to have no real understanding of what his vision is. He loses the substance with his many multi‑point plans. The question is whether, as Kimberly Stassel put it in The Wall Street Journal, “he can define a grand purpose for his presidency in a clear and compelling way.” Governor Romney needs to remind voters that President Obama was elected as the man upon whom Americans placed their hope that, yes we can turn America around, yes we can have jobs, and yes Americans can regain its confidence and its world leadership. But the fact of the matter is he spent his entire first two years in office, when he controlled both houses of Congress, not trying to build the economy to create jobs, but, instead, passing a health care plan that nobody seems to have wanted, a plan so fatally flawed that it might well be struck down by the Supreme Court this June prior to the election. Then what does he have to show for his first three years in office? Essentially, he has very little to show for it. He is now asking to be re‑elected. Why? He has not defined that either, but perhaps he just thinks that the American public likes him. He reminds us of the typical congressman who, as his first order of business, starts raising money for re-election.
The usual strategy for a Republican, as Fred Barnes points out, is “to run as a conservative in the primaries and then move toward the center in the general election.” Mr. Romney will have to make serious changes to that kind of attack. Governor Romney has done the opposite by starting in the center and inching toward conservative positions on taxes, spending, entitlements, social issues and foreign policy.
It is utterly necessary for a GOP win for the candidates who have now dropped out of the race, particularly Mr. Santorum, to endorse Governor Romney sooner rather than later. It is not enough simply to suspend his campaign; it is to aggressively persuade those voters who voted for him that, at a minimum, a Romney presidency is far better than another four years of the incumbent.
It will not be enough simply to pick a running mate and try and gain the support of this or that fringe group. The running mate must add to the base of the conservative core of the Republican Party in a major way. A woman would be a good choice. We presume that Condoleezza Rice is not available, but she would not only bring to the ticket an enormously accomplished and respected woman, but also a woman who rose from a hard-working, African American family of modest means to a position of great prominence on the world stage.
With regard to the women’s vote, the Democrats suffered a major gaffe when Hilary Rosen suggested that Ann Romney had never worked a day in her life. Tell that to mothers who stay home trying to raise several children as Mrs. Romney did in raising 5 sons who are successful in their own right. Now we need for Mrs. Romney to wade into the campaign in a major and significant way, and do whatever she can to attract the women’s vote and remind women that she represents what most of them stand for: the importance of raising a good family, a family that believes in the American dream, believes in American exceptionalism,, and believes in the opportunities that are available only in this nation.
Returning again to the issue of a vice presidential running mate reminds us to discuss Paul Ryan and his vision for the nation. Paul Ryan has had the guts from early on to lay out a program that is based on a budget that is indeed conservative, and which has economic growth as its cornerstone rather than simply raising tax rates on everyone who earns over $200,000. What Mr. Ryan does is revive the debate over the proper relationship between individual citizens, including the poor, and the national government. As he put it, “to me the ‘principal of subsidiarity’ meaning government closest to the people governs best; where we, through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups, where we interact with people as a community. That is how we advance the common good. By not having big government crowd out civic society, but by having enough space in our communities so that we can interact with each other and take care of people who are down and out in our communities,” or as de Tocqueville first defined what he called “American Exceptionalism” nearly 200 years ago — an America, in which citizens through their civic organizations, associations, churches, charities and community groups took primary responsibility for solving problems and accomplishing positive objectives.
We hope Mr. Romney can learn to define himself better than he has early on, being more than everybody’s second choice, but being a candidate who demonstrates a vision. We think a good start would be seriously to listen to the words of Mr. Ryan. It is still a long way to November and the election might well be decided by an event, or events, which have not yet occurred — think Iran; think North Korea, think recession in Europe impeding recovery in America. Indeed, the games have only begun.