From the many comments and editorials here and elsewhere, the probable nominee, Mitt Romney, has failed the conservative litmus test…whatever that is. He has been lumped into the great depository of the RINOs and no amount of convincing by him or others is going to change anyone’s mind. For many, his rhetoric on the campaign on the campaign trail in 2011-2012 does not match his actions as Governor of deeply blue Massachusetts. They key here is the phrase “deeply blue.” I think that with a few rare exceptions, any Republican from the northeast could be characterized as a RINO. But who says the definition of “Republican” has to adhere to the definition of those outside the northeast? Does anyone’s disagreement with the conservative Republican orthodoxy over a single issue or two deserve the derision heaped upon people, not only Romney?
The fact is that this country is, in the overall sense, right of center but not as far right as the detractors would have us believe. In a sense, Romney should be commended for holding his ground in certain areas against the ultra-conservative onslaught led by the unelectable, one-trick-pony, proven loser Rick Santorum. And lest anyone get the impression I am a Romney supporter, read some of my previous entries. I have always been a supporter of Mitch Daniels, but since he is not in the running, I have to choose from among what is presented. Also, I am no apologist for Romney, but I do tend to view actions and words in context and believe the world and solutions to problems sometimes are not as black and white as some people portend.
I looked at Romney’s record as Governor of Massachusetts, the main ire of conservatives. Specifically, it boils down to three issues: Romneycare (for the true fiscal conservative) and gay marriage and abortion (for the social conservatives). First, Romneycare. Yes, it includes an individual mandate with tax penalties that fund subsidies. Yes, it is a state attempt at universal health care which to many smacks of government interference in the free market (me included). However, lets look at some facts. Most of Romneycare was devised by an independent panel of experts from various fields in response to two events. First, the alternatives being presented by the both houses of the Massachusetts legislature could have been potentially worse (if that was possible) and secondly, the state, when Romney became Governor, was under a Federal mandate to increase health care coverage in the state or face the loss of Medicaid funds. Given these two forces bearing down on his tenure, the result, unfortunately, was Romneycare. Today, the Democrats are now making the statement that Obamacare was modeled upon Romneycare so that Romney, the candidate, loses an arguing point in the campaign and debate against Obama.
What Romney needs to do- and he may just do it yet- is claim that what he thought may have worked in Massachusetts does not work on the national level. He needs to make the case that all the promises of Romneycare have not been met and that those broken promises will be amplified at the national level through Obamacare. He can distance himself enough from Romneycare without total disavowal. Regardless, states are the great laboratories of democracy. Sometimes, those experiments can be replicated on the national stage. For example, welfare reform under Clinton was modeled on reforms from Wisconsin. But like any experiment, there are more failures than successes. And given the alternatives in Massachusetts and circumstances Romney faced, it was the best a Governor- especially a Republican Governor in a blue state- could do. Could he have vetoed the law on principle? Of course he could have, but when faced with an overwhelming Democratic majority in the legislature, it would have been symbolic and nothing more. In fact, it is my understanding that Romney line-item vetoed eight aspects of Romneycare only to have all vetoes overturned in the legislature. It also may just turn out, depending on how the Supreme Court rules, that Obamacare’s mandate may not be such a big issue after all.
Secondly, gay marriage came to be on Romney’s watch. Again, this makes it sound as if he was the great champion of gay rights. In fact, gay marriage in Massachusetts was resisted by Romney at several turns. It was not at his instigation that gay marriage came to be in the Bay State, but a ruling by their Supreme Court. Trying to minimize the damage, Romney actually invoked an old law from 1917 prohibiting gays from coming to Massachusetts from other states in order to marry. One could hardly call Romney the Governor pro-gay because of these events. Also, as Governor he is required to uphold the laws and rulings of the courts no matter how much one disagrees with them. Eisenhower as President was opposed to the forced integration of schools under court order, but he nevertheless sent the National Guard into Little Rock to enforce that order. Chris Christie, my Governor, was under a Court order to restore school funding he cut out in his budget and complied. Romney, as Governor of Massachusetts, tried all he had within his power to minimize the bad effects of a state court order.
The third issue is abortion. While it is certainly true that Romney ran for Governor as a pro-choice candidate, one will have to take him at his word that he has changed his position to pro-life over time. We can debate whether this was truly heartfelt or just political expediency, but time will tell. Hopefully those who have doubts now will hold his feet to the fire should he waver as President. Regardless, hopefully no one is asserting that someone’s position on abortion cannot change over time. If one asserts that, then I assert that one can not be “reborn” either. People can and people do change over time. In fact, in the debate over Romneycare, he actually vetoed a section of that law that required mandatory emergency contraceptive services. The legislature again over-rode that veto.
The difference between Romney the Governor of Massachusetts versus Romney the President also needs to be viewed in light of the supporting cast. Hopefully, he will not have the overwhelming Democratic majorities in the House or Senate that he had in Massachusetts as Governor where he tried to enact as close to a conservative agenda as he could get given that state’s legislative make up and liberal slant. Incidentally, a very good case could be made that a Santorum or Gingrich candidacy would have negative effects on races down the ticket. That is, you lose not only the Presidency with Santorum or Gingrich, but you also place control of the Senate and House at serious risk.
As I have said before, Mitt Romney was not my first choice for the GOP nomination. But since my choice opted out, I am certain that when June rolls around and I vote in my primary, I will be casting that vote for Romney. It is not a question of voting for the lesser of several evils. That would be the case if there was demonstrable evil in the first place. Those people holding on to the hope of a Santorum, Gingrich, or even Perry candidacy against Obama need to face reality. But then again, any of those would be preferable to another four years of Barack Obama.