February 8th, 2008 by Rightsideup

The WSJ’s op-ed today on Mitt’s suspension of his campaign is a little kinder on him than its previous analysis of his candidacy, although it makes some of the same points anyway:

… while he convinced various radio and TV hosts, he never made the sale about his convictions to enough voters.

The former consultant and entrepreneur also faced a stark data point: His campaign never caught fire with his party’s voters in the way he hoped. Americans often say they want a businessman candidate, but rarely do they elect one as President. Perhaps that’s because they understand the incentives are very different in the business marketplace than in Washington, and they are looking for convictions and ideas as much as technocratic competence in their candidates.

The irony here is that surely, over the last eight years, we’ve seen what ideology alone does, both when not accompanied by competence, and when not tempered by reality. While Bush’s ideology has allowed him to appoint two good Supreme Court justices, his lack of competence and over-emphasis on ideology has meant he’s failed to exercise discipline over Congress by using his veto power, and pursued failing strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Competence is exactly what we need, especially when coupled with strong principles, and perhaps what Romney failed to do was make that point effectively, which was hard for him to do when running as a Bush fan. A businessman’s analytical mind would likely have being able to grasp much more quickly that the Iraq strategy wasn’t working, and probably would have been quicker to make personnel changes too.

Some of the more positive comments were a little kinder, however:

Given that some of his more melodramatic supporters have taken to declaring their intentions to support Hillary Clinton over Mr. McCain, Mr. Romney’s statesmanship will win admirers across the GOP.

… He… showed himself to be a man of personal integrity, and he arguably made Mr. McCain a better candidate — in particular by forcing the Arizona Senator to speak more clearly about the economy.

… [McCain’s] task of unifying the party was made easier by Mr. Romney’s statesmanship.

Glad they recognise that Romney has exercised self-discipline whereas Huckabee apparently intends to continue his Quixotic pursuit of the nomination at great cost to himself, his supporters and the party.

February 8th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Mitt Romney leaves the stage at the end of his speech yesterday – hopefully not for the last time.

February 7th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Very disappointed but ultimately not completely surprised given the odds that Romney conceded the race today. I wonder if Huckabee will now drop out at some point, since he’s achieved his objective of preventing Romney from winning and needs to make some kind of concession to McCain to get the VP job he’s really after at this point.

All this leaves me wondering where Mitt will go from here. His CPAC speech was – like the last one – one of his best (one of my biggest frustrations about his candidacy has been the way he is sometimes right on the money, energised and fired up, and other times just seems to be going through the motions). When this guy is in the right mood he’s amazing, so as a starting point he’s going to have to figure out how to achieve that mood more regularly.

Jim Geraghty of the National Review has a piece which I think sums up nicely where Romney could go from here. It waffles on for several seemingly irrelevant paragraphs but finally gets to this:

McCain is likely to get the nomination, and he will face a tough race against either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. There may be a Republican president running for reelection in 2012, or there may not be. Even if McCain wins, there may be room for a conservative to challenge a sitting Republican president (a true rerun of Ford vs. Reagan). President McCain may decide one term is enough, and a conservative may find himself contemplating a challenge to McCain’s vice president.

Mitt Romney’s going to learn a lot from this race, no matter how it shakes out. If he doesn’t win the nomination, he has four years to spend tending to the vineyards of conservatism, to make his dedication to pro-life, pro-gun, and other conservative causes beyond question. He will be able to wonder if he should have spent less here and there, focused a bit more on South Carolina, made a play for more winner-take-all states on Super Tuesday. (His success in caucuses suggests he’s the favorite of those willing to commit several hours to a presidential primary choice.) He may figure out how to jab his opponent without seeming negative, how to show appropriate, steely anger, and how to effortlessly rebut an opponent’s attack.

A little less than four years from now, Mitt Romney may enter another Republican primary looking different, and perhaps more complete as a candidate.

I think he hits the nail on the head there in the last two paragraphs. But who knows what Mitt will want to do between now and then, and whether he will be willing to give it another go in four years’ time. One thing I find extremely unlikely is that Romney would ever want to serve as VP or even a cabinet member under another president – this guy has been top dog in everything he’s done since 1984 – that’s 24 years of running the show and if I were him I’d find it very difficult to go back to being just a member of a team where someone else calls the shots.

Update: speech available here in text form as prepared.

February 7th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Now that I’ve had a day or so to get my head around it, I wanted to do a bit of analysis on what happened to Romney on Super Tuesday.

First, a look at where he won:

  • His home states (Utah, Massachusetts)
  • Two other Western states with high Mormon populations (Montana and Colorado), although the latter is also the home of Focus on the Family and a cluster of evangelicals
  • Some others that were less obvious: North Dakota, Minnesota and Alaska. And he won the first ballot in West Virginia, although subsequent tactical voting by McCain supporters gave Huckabee the win in the end.

The media has essentially written off his wins in the first category (even though with three home states Romney arguably has an edge over McCain and Huckabee, who only have one each). They’ve also to some extent written off the second group for much the same reason (although they don’t seem to expect Southern Baptists or evangelicals in general to vote in blocs for Huckabee, or exhibit the same dismissiveness when he wins Southern states where they form a substantial part of the electorate).

I haven’t heard good explanations for his strong performance in the other states – Ron Paul had a stronger local operation in Alaska and was expected to win, and neither North Dakota or Minnesota are obvious ones for the Mitt column. West Virginia would have been particularly impressive and if McCain’s supporters had split by their own preference rather than tactical voting he might well have taken it. One explanation would simply be that where neither Huckabee (in the South) or McCain (in more liberal coastal areas) has a natural edge, Mitt actually does very well, even with little advertising, presumably as a result of honest assessments of qualifications for the job.

Overall he did well outside the South, put in a reasonable showing in a couple of other Mid-Western and Southern states, and unfortunately did equally well/badly in almost all the California congressional districts, giving him very few delegates to show for his 34% of the vote.

But of course he has a huge mountain to climb now, with the following states remaining:

  • February 9th – Louisiana (Southern, so likely to go Huckabee), Washington (caucuses – coastal, but Western – McCain and Romney likely to both be strong) and Kansas (mid-Western, so likely to see strength from all three candidates like Missouri)
  • February 12th – DC, Maryland and Virginia (clumped together in a single media market – if Romney wanted to spend the money he could probably do well. His WV showing suggests he may be able to put in a strong showing. But MD and DC in particular may lean liberal and therefore McCain)
  • February 19th – Washington (primaries – see Feb 9th), Wisconsin (tough to call – might be influenced by neighbouring Michigan and the George Romney factor)
  • March 4th – Ohio (MO/KS), Vermont (McCain?), Texas (Southern but also very varied – McCain should be strong, but Romney may be able to compete) and Rhode Island (close to MA, so Romney gets a bump? But McCain likely strong too)
  • March 11th – Mississippi (Huckabee has to be the favourite)
  • March 22nd – Pennsylvania (Depends a lot on ad spending – if it follows the NYC cluster it will go strongly McCain)
  • May 6th – Indiana (KS/MO), North Carolina (could go like South Carolina, but lots of business in the Raleigh metro – perhaps they lean Romney?)
  • May 13th – Nebraska (KS/MO)
  • May 18th – Hawai’i (who knows? liberal but also a large Mormon population)
  • May 20th – Kentucky (Huckabee), Oregon (see WA, but perhaps more liberal so McCain?)
  • May 27th – Idaho (Romney)
  • June 3rd – New Mexico (close run between McCain and Romney), South Dakota (Romney again as in ND?)

It would take a major shift in the race to allow Romney to win what he needs from these remaining states to be close to McCain in total delegates – likely only his opponents running out of money and/or Huckabee and/or Paul dropping out would do it. He can continue spending on ads and that will make a difference, but not enough to put him into real contention. On the other hand, unless someone drops out, it will also be hard for McCain to go into convention with a majority of delegates. Of course, Huckabee’s are likely to swing behind McCain at that point in return for the VP slot, but potentially things could still go another way. But Romney ending up as the nominee has to be a minority probability at best.

February 5th, 2008 by Rightsideup

The question keeps coming back to me: what do we want for a president: a statesman, or a politician? In the debate last week McCain came across as every bit the politician, with not an ounce of statesmanship in him, persisting with his nasty slurs about Romney’s positions on Iraq withdrawal and sneering unpleasantly most of the time while Romney was speaking. And then there’s the “I Hate Mitt Romney” Club I posted about previously, and more sleaziness like this trick McCain pulled on Sunday and Monday. Apparently keener to “get into Romney’s head” than to lead, he again reinforced the perception (at least in my mind) that he’s more politician than statesman.

Contrast this with Romney, who remained above the fray and pretty much unflappable during that debate and has been polite and dignified throughout the process. I know which qualities I prefer in a president, and I imagine others do too.

February 4th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Time Magazine has an article which even I found shocking, describing the personal animosity other campaigns harbour against Romney. The headline is The I Hate Romney Club and the article shows just how vicious the other campaigns are. Although McCain is now the only candidate of the four mentioned who still has a chance of winning, it’s clear that they all hate Romney. The reasons given just don’t cut it for me as explaining the strength of feeling exhibited by these candidates and you just have to wonder what’s really behind it all. I can’t figure it out, but it just doesn’t make me feel good about McCain as a human being, especially after the display he put on in the last debate.

February 1st, 2008 by Rightsideup

The Wall Street Journal today puts another nail in the Romney campaign’s coffin. If he can’t even rely on a conservative newspaper like the WSJ then he may indeed be in real trouble. The article makes several points to back up its dislike of Romney’s candidacy, some of which are inaccurate or at least unfair:

Insurance in Massachusetts is among the most expensive in the nation because of multiple mandates, such as premium price controls and rules dictating that coverage be offered to all comers regardless of health. Mr. Romney’s cardinal flaw was that he did not attempt to deregulate and allow the insurance market to function as it should.

That last line is the kicker. He did try, but faced with an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature which had created the mandates in the first place he wasn’t successful. This is inaccurate to say the least.

The mandate in combination with other regulations effectively socialized the Massachusetts insurance market.

Does the Wall Street Journal have some other definition of the word “socialized” than the rest of the world? There is no government provision or insurance for healthcare here – just private insurance provided by private companies to private individuals which can be used for private care in private hospitals. Absolutely, the plan wasn’t perfect, and absolutely the Democrats hijacked it and created something of a Frankenstein’s monster out of it – but this point too is overplayed in the op-ed:

None of this would bode well for a President Romney facing a Democratic Congress that would be even more relentless than the one in Boston.

Relentless? What does that mean? Certainly the national congress, even if Republicans lose further seats in November, would not be anywhere near as Democratic as the Massachusetts legislature. And with far more Republicans there, as well as broad support for Democrats for the principle, it’s quite possible Romney might be able to get something much more like his original vision passed in Washington.

The op-ed ends up reading like a hatchet job by a group of people who have already made up their minds, not a thoughtful examination of Mitt’s candidacy. What we really need – both from Mitt and from observers like the WSJ – is an examination of what we need in our next president, and how he measures up. I’ll provide my version shortly

January 31st, 2008 by Rightsideup

A strategy memo from the Romney campaign citing figures from Florida exit polls has made its way into the blogosphere and shares a lot of my own thoughts about how Romney wins – some key points:

  • McCain has won around a third of the vote even in states where he won overall. This means two thirds of the vote is up for grabs by Romney (at least theoretically)
  • Romney leads McCain in several important categories and if he can reinforce these and switch some voters to his cause in certain others this will be enough to be at least competitive on Super Tuesday
  • If you take away the effect of McCain’s misleading comments about withdrawal timetables in Florida, that race would have been even closer.

In short, there’s still everything to fight for. Good to see that the Romney campaign thinks so too.

January 31st, 2008 by Rightsideup

I see that Mark Levin has officially endorsed Romney in a piece on National Review Online. About time, too. These guys have been saying for weeks now that either McCain or Huckabee would be a disaster. Since Rudy’s dropped out and Paul was never in, that really leaves only Romney. So why haven’t these guys (Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity primarily, but also others) endorsed Romney outright? He needs that kind of boost to push his campaign as we head for Super Tuesday. Good for Levin for being the first of the big ones, but let’s hold off on the talk about the conservative movement having fractured (Rush) and the pretend conversions (Hannity) and look at the task in hand – nominating a conservative candidate.

January 31st, 2008 by Rightsideup

Time’s debate scorecard for last night’s debate demonstrates some incredible mental dexterity from Mark Halperin, who gave McCain a winning B grade (Romney got a D). The following quote is the first two thirds of his blurb on McCain’s performance:

As a testament to his suddenly strong position in the battle for the nomination, he showed off all of his worst traits — and still won! Alternately cranky, elderly, caustic, equivocating, inarticulate, passionless. But he flexed his ability to intimidate Romney as needed, usually with an arch one-liner that was 3/5 mean-spirited and 2/5 light gag. Made little effort to defend his own tax record or negative Florida attacks, and failed to drive a positive message.

And this is the guy who won? It reads like satire. The idea that Romney was intimidated bears no relation whatsoever to what actually happened in the debate, where Romney stood very firm and countered all of McCain’s smears. In the last third of Halperin’s summary he suggests that questoiners and the other candidates treated him as the front runner. No doubt the questioners did – this has been their line for the last several weeks, even when McCain was badly lagging Romney in the delegate race. But given there are only two serious candidates left in the race, who else was Romney to go after? Huckabee? Paul?? And McCain certainly focused his attention on Romney – does this mean he thinks Romney is the front runner? The whole thing is bizarre, and another sign that the media is desperate to have McCain as the nominee – either because they believe he will implode or because they like his centrist positions better than Romney’s conservative stance.