The Republican ticket that could have won …
A look backward ... What if?
My view of most conventional wisdom, especially when it comes to politics, is that all too often, it is long on convention and woefully short on actual wisdom. One such is the constantly repeated conventional wisdom – particularly popular with liberal cocktail circuit chatterers and the “moderates” in the GOP that are forever trying to impress them – that there is a huge untapped “centrist” or “moderate” majority, distressed by the “bickering” in Congress, dismayed by all the “divisions” in politics, crying out for a return to the “civility”, “moderation” and “Bipartisanship” of a bygone era. These voters, we are told, have been “turned off” by all the “rancor” and “controversy” which has made them “turn away in disgust” from politics.
One of the key arguments from McCain’s supporters during the fight for the Republican nomination was his alleged appeal to this key demographic, i.e. “centrists”, Independents, “moderates”, etc. who are “tired” of the “partisanship” and “rancor” in Washington DC. Thanks to his many “mature” “centrist” positions and the key “centrist” Bipartisan compromises and legislation he’s been a party to, not to mention his careful eight years of cultivating the “respect” and “good will” of the Press Corps (witness his primary endorsement by that paragon of fairness and objectivity; the New York Times), these voters, at last presented with a candidate with a record of putting into practice their “deeply held” “centrist” “principles” of “bipartisanship”, “consensus” and Congressional “comity” in Washington on the ballot, would enthusiastically open their wallets, volunteer and troop to the polls on Election Day to vote for John McCain. Or so we were told. Many formerly Blue states would turn Red, as these “moderates”, long-neglected by “both sides” and their “partisan bickering” ways, inspired by his promises to end the “bickering” and “reach across the aisle to get things done” would turn out en masse to give him their votes.
Err … no. It turns out the Beltway opinion mongers were wrong … or lying. By the time the convention rolled around, McCain was nearly broke, his campaign was finding it difficult to fill a mid-sized hotel conference room and the “moderates”, “Independents” and “centrists” that he was supposed to have brought back into politics were instead opening their wallets and pledging their support to his opponent in remarkable numbers. Let’s face the facts; the McCain/Palin ticket was never going to win against the liberal juggernaut that was the Obama campaign, and it was not because of the lady whose name was at the bottom of the ticket but the man at the top. Until he picked Sarah Palin to fill the VP spot and actually get Republicans to care about making him President (so Palin can get to be Vice President), John McCain was on a path to losing north of forty states. So maybe it’s time to retire the conventional wisdom that John McCain and his supposed vote-magnet catalogue of Bipartisan “achievements” was the best choice the GOP could have made to carry our banner.
I believe now as much as I believed then that the far better choice would have been Mitt Romney, and if we hadn’t elected to take advice from the Boston Globe, we wouldn’t find ourselves staring into quite so deep an abyss because we picked a punch-pulling “Bipartisan” to head our ticket on the supposed strenth of his “appeal” to what is largely an imaginary segment of the electorate. It still would have been Obama’s race to lose, but personally, I can’t see where Romney would have done any worse than John McCain, and with the right Vice-Presidential pick to complement what he brought to the table I can certainly see where he would have done a lot better.
One reason, first of all, is that I really don’t think Romney would have wasted any amount of time worrying about whether or not he would be seen as an “honorable loser” by Beltway apparatchiks and talking heads – and second, no, I don’t think Romney would have suggested “suspending” the campaign simply because Harry Reid asked him to, to demonstrate his “Bipartisanship”. And, furthermore, I find it inconceivable that the Romney campaign would have allowed some misguided notion of “Bipartisanship” to stop them from tying Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Jim Johnson, Franklin Raines, their campaign contributions and the entire sub-prime mess around Obama and his Democratic colleagues’ necks when the whole thing hit. I have no doubt whatsoever that Romney would have relentlessly pounded Obama on it in person and on the airwaves up until Election Day.
For all that he was a Republican from Dark Blue Massachussetts and McCain from Red Arizona – or, ironically, because of it – Romney would have been a hell of a lot more aggressive and significantly more focused and organized than John McCain. That sort of discipline and aggression may have rubbed many Republicans the wrong way during the Primaries, but it’s the sort of discipline and fighting spirit that works in a general election, where you need a fighter, not someone worried about whether his opponents would still like him at the end of the day.
And if he had made a solid Vice-Presidential pick … well, I wrote way back in January that the ideal ticket for the GOP against whoever it is between Hillary and Obama the Democrats ended up picking would have been Mitt Romney and (if he could have been convinced – indulge me and assume he could have been) former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace (USMC). It was my signature (Romney/Pace 2008) for a while even after McCain had secured the nomination.
At the risk of sounding immodest, everything that has happened since then has only made me more confident that I was right; a Romney/Pace versus Obama/Biden ticket would have been a very different story indeed.
- Executive Experience
- Mitt Romney: A former Governor in a state whose Constitution gives a whole lot of muscle to the Governor’s office – even if the Democrats’ majority in the MA state legislative houses negates a lot of that for a Republican given the state’s deep dark political hue. And notwithstanding 800 vetoes overturned by Democratic super-majorities, the man still ended up being pretty effective in office. Either way, Romney brought four years more executive experience in government than anyone on the other side. Add his years in business as the hugely successful CEO of both Bain Capital and Bain & Company and that boosts his executive experience credits beyond anything Obama and Biden combined can touch.
- Peter Pace: A former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the very first Marine to have served in that capacity as the highest ranking military officer in the United States. Looking at his resume, one will see a former Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs, Commander – U.S. Marine Corps Forces (Atlantic/Europe/South), Commander in Chief, United States Southern Command and Vice-Chairman and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. That’s quite a lot of executive, very executive experience.
- The Economy
- Mitt Romney: Widely considered to be one of the best and brightest CEOs and businessmen of his generation – not to mention a Harvard MBA (and JD). Thousands of people are today employed in companies and businesses he helped get started and/or rescued from the brink of bankruptcy, including the Olympics in Salt Lake City. And notwithstanding all the scorn poured on his successful rescue of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics during the Primaries, by all accounts, it was an amazing job – at least, back when success in the private sector was counted as a plus for Republican Presidential candidates by Republican Primary voters.
- Peter Pace: On multiple occasions, in multiple positions of ever increasing responsibility, for extended periods of time, directed and exercised oversight over billions of dollars worth of the nation’s defense resources, including the lives of more than two million people serving their nation in uniform. Might I also point out that he holds an MBA from George Washington University?
- National Security
- Mitt Romney: After 9/11, practically every Governor has had to bone up on security issues. Prior to that, as CEO of the Salt Lake City Olympics, especially after 9/11, he had to work closely with experts in the field to secure the games against terrorist attacks. I’m not arguing that all that is a particularly strong point in his favor – but then again, this is true for all Governors and Senators/Congressman not serving on the Armed Services and Intelligence committees. And this certainly applies much more to Barack Obama.
- Peter Pace: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff …? Highest level of security clearance? Untrammelled access to the DIA? One of the key people who greenlighted “The Surge”? Is there really any need to go any further?
- Foreign Policy
- Mitt Romney: Romney’s previous life as a businessman dealing with various multi-nationals and in many cases foreign government agencies and regulators is something major he brought to the table, especially considering the folks at the top and bottom of the Democratic ticket. And considering the fact that business, economics and foreign policy are joined at the hip, and in fact, tend to be at the root of a whole host of issues of international concern (see: credit crisis), dismissing his experience in business and knowledge of the economy would be stupidity on stilts.
- Peter Pace: Again, let’s go through the man’s resume; Chairman, and Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Commander – U.S. Marine Corps Forces (Atlantic/Europe/South), Commander in Chief, United States Southern Command. Let’s be blunt, whoever thinks one can be on the Joint Chiefs, much less head it, and hold all the positions listed above previous to it, and not be conversant with the ins and outs of foreign policy (which is even more joined at the hip with military/defense policy) would be the picture perfect illustration of ignorance in its purest form.
- Base Appeal
- Mitt Romney: I admit, this is where Romney would have needed some help – he simply received no reasonable benefit of the doubt. If Romney began a speech with “Good morning” today, a large number of people would call it a “flip-flop” because he began another speech with “Good evening” 12 hours ago yesterday. However, I believe that once the passions of the Primaries had died down, the rank and file would have united rather more easily and solidly behind him than they did for John McCain. Largely because, unlike McCain, Romney had not spent most of the last eight years launching missiles at his own party just to get to hang out with Wolf Blitzer and George Stephanopoulos on Sunday morning. And to be honest, Obama was not exactly a paragon of consistency.
- Peter Pace: McCain got the base on board only when he picked Sarah Palin. I think Romney picking Peter Pace would have had just as electrifying an effect, perhaps even more. I mean, what’s not to like? From all indications, he seems to have strongly held traditional views on marriage at the least. With that in mind, and the fact that he’s a Roman-Catholic, I think it would be a safe bet to assume that he’d also be pro-life. Second, his record of service in the military is sure to make the average Republican swoon, and this would be without knowing what he did with his stars on the day he was forced to go into retirement by sheer Democratic spite. Which brings me to the third issue – how many Republicans would not crawl through broken glass to make sure he gets to preside over the same Senate Democrats who cut short his career of service to his troops and his nation?
- Regional Balance
- Mitt Romney: Massachusetts by way of Michigan. Would very likely have been stronger than John McCain in Nevada and Colorado.
- Peter Pace: Virginia by way of New Jersey and New York. Would have been the first American Vice-President of Italian ancestry – which would have had some effect on the voting patterns, I think. Chances are that he would have drawn some more of the Catholic vote as well. The fact that Virginia was a key swing state and he’s a native son certainly wouldn’t have hurt.
- Mitt Romney: After years of railing against money in politics, and making it more difficult for ordinary citizens to contribute to causes and candidates they supported, it shouldn’t have come as a shock when John McCain found himself at bankruptcy’s door … until he selected Sarah Palin to be his Vice President. Romney had no such devotion to the concept – ironically, like Russell Feingold when the rubber hit the road. And considering that he would not be counting on some ephemereal Bipartisan “moderate” “centrist” segment of the population to contribute to his campaign, and the fact that he’s actually quite a good fund-raiser, I don’t think the money gap between him and Obama would have been quite so wide.
- Peter Pace: As Obama easily proved, base enthusiasm equals money. Upon Romney announcing him as his pick for the Vice-Presidency, millions upon millions will flood into Romney Campaign and RNC coffers from hyper-excited Republicans.
- Public Perception Issues
- Mitt Romney: Whatever else i.e. “phoniness” Romney projected, he also very easily projected intelligence and competence, and he had that key ability to explain himself – the latter being something George W. Bush utterly lacks. Add in the Harvard MBA and JD, and the traditional Press Corps’ questioning of a Republican’s intelligence is effectively silenced. And unlike McCain – through no fault (and actually through his heroism) of McCain’s – he projected a measure of youth and health that an apparent significant number of voters claimed would be a factor on Election Day. Another thing which seemed to have rubbed a lot of people the wrong way during the Primaries is that he was squeaky clean, too clean it seemed even. Not even the Massachusetts Democratic Party’s attack dog house organ (the Boston Globe) could find anything more incriminating on him beyond the fact that he did not personally demand to see the immigration papers of the people employed by the company doing his landscaping. This, though, would be Romney’s main challenge to overcome … and a campaign is a very long time.
- Peter Pace: His monstrously impressive resume aborts any question about his intelligence. Also apparently squeaky clean. And like Joe Biden, he has a son serving in the Marine Corps. Add in the fact that Obama was notably silent when the Democrats decided to force him out just to embarrass President Bush and the story writes itself. Furthermore, chances are his selection would have made people Colin Powell and Ken Adelman withhold their endorsements – which actually did cause some damage (not that it affected the end-results any) to McCain-Palin in the final stretch.
- Mitt Romney: To me, Romney being a Mormon was a minor issue. Irrelevant. After all, I’m not a Christian myself – i.e. I face the East five times a day. Anyway, apparently, it would have been a major issue for a significant number of voters (traditional Republican voters especially) if he had won the nomination, or so the chattering classes say. My own thoughts are more focused on trying to figure out if the Democrats would have been stupid enough to try to exploit this with Mormons Tom and Mark Udall running for the Senate in NM and CO? And that’s not to mention the fact that any attempt to make Romney’s religion an issue would have given the green light to the Romney Campaign to start playing clips of “Reverend” Jeremiah Wright “sermonizing” and the words “23 years” in big bold letters scrolling across the screen on ads all over the country.
- Peter Pace: Catholic. Really can’t see how that hurts the ticket. In fact, it works well … all nice and “inclusive.”
Oh well … no use crying over spilt milk and all that. So think of this as an “analysis piece”, taking some unfair advantage of hindsight. After all, if Obama got even an inkling that Romney was talking to Pace, he likely would have picked Wesley Clark, or, to be even more clever, Virginian Claudia Kennedy for his VP.
Anyways, comments, criticisms and other insights showing me where I’m wrong about this are welcome of course (if interested), but this is not an invitation to refight old battles that have long since been made over and done with. Except of course, modesty aside, the fact that I did suggest this as the strongest team we could field this go-round back when it mattered.
That said, I promise my next post will be much more future oriented.