The Dumbest Thing I Heard This Week

There’s a ton of Republican second-guessing over the election. Bobby Jindal and Lindsay Graham are trying to change the Republican Party itself, blaming its inaccessible and close-minded approach for electoral losses. These critiques seem to overlook the role that both played in making the Republican Party the political equivalent of a bridge troll, but attention spans in politics are mercifully short.

The Romney campaign is obsessed with applauding themselves for convincingly winning demographic groups that constituted a majority in the late 60s. It’s almost as though Mitt Romney really only wanted to prove that George Romney could have been elected president in 1968.

Conservatives on the other hand are finding every opportunity to stick to their sweet, sweet guns by blaming Romney himself. If the problem was the Romney campaign, there’s no need to reform the platform Republican Party. Moreover, if the problem were Romney himself, there’s no need to change the mechanics of campaigning either. The problem is not just that this is factually untrue, but it ignores Romney’s record as a “severely conservative governor” if you judge him fairly.

Steve Baldwin writes the latter in RealClearPolitics:

The GOP establishment and some conservative pundits, such as Ann Coulter, are in full defense mode, claiming that Romney is not responsible for losing to an incumbent responsible for perhaps the most damaging fiscal crises in our nation’s history. Don’t believe it. Romney IS responsible for wasting a billion dollars to carry out an issue-free campaign full of simple-minded platitudes. Indeed, Coulter is leading the charge with her recent column titled, Don’t Blame Romney. It’s sweet to watch Coulter defend her darling Romney, but let’s get real.

Oh Ann Coulter and her love affair with Mitt Romney. Oh wait, no. Also, “issue-free?” He did nothing but preach fiscal conservatism directly from a copy of Road to Serfdom (while his running mate gave Reader’s Digest versions of the John Galt monologue). Was Baldwin’s problem the lack of focus on social issues? Like abortion? That worked out well in Missouri and Indiana.

The reality is that Romney was one of the worst GOP presidential candidates in modern times. He was not the first choice of most conservative voters but he managed to rise through the ranks in the primary due to conservatives being split 4-5 ways…

This is an attractive salve for conservative wounds, but it’s also not true. Only 3 candidates continued to challenge Romney after New Hampshire. With almost every delegate left to be awarded, the conservative vote wasn’t split “4-5 ways.” In fact, Ron Paul is always an outlier, taking votes from the libertarian wing of the GOP that would not support either a hardline conservative or Mitt Romney. Excusing him from the calculation, conservative votes were only split 2 ways between Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. There’s an argument to be had that had one dropped out the conservative movement would have coalesced behind the other. But there’s an equally good argument that the reason conservatives didn’t warm to a single challenger is that a segment of the Republican primary electorate hated the conservative alternative as much as they hated Romney.

Consider the fact that Newt Gingrich ceased to be a serious challenger after Florida but still received a fairly steady 5-15%. These were people who knew Santorum was the only alternative to Romney and still refused to support him. That’s not a split conservative base, that a bunch of conservatives who actually preferred Romney over Santorum.

But as any conservative from Massachusetts knew, Romney was a liberal at heart who, as Governor, led the nation in passing three of the left’s most sacred issues: Same sex marriage, Cap and Trade, and government control of health care.

This is the line that earned Baldwin the title of TDTIHTW. “Three of the left’s most sacred issues.” Romney passed same sex marriage? That would be news to him. A court decision legalized same sex marriage in Massachusetts and Mitt Romney expended considerable effort to delay the ruling from going into effect. As governor he did order marriage licenses issued, but that was only after the law came into effect. Executives don’t have the right to violate the law (this isn’t like President Obama’s stance on DOMA, where he employed executive discretion to not prosecute cases — Romney had to issue marriage licenses).

A plan that allows companies to continue doing this is not a “left” idea

Cap and Trade is a free market mechanism seeking to privatize environmental policy. Given that description, it should surprise no one that this idea was penned by conservatives trying to cobble together a solution to pollution and acid rain that would not allow liberals to mandate air quality standards. It allowed businesses to trade permits that constituted the cost of externality of pollution. Cleaner businesses were rewarded for efficiency by selling their permits and businesses unable to modernize immediately and seeking flexibility can buy permits to keep polluting. This was a right-wing theory and resisted by liberals. Eventually liberals came around to accept it as a good, if not ideal, solution (though they may be wrong). It is not a sacred cow of the left…if anything Romney’s support for Cap and Trade in the late 90s and early 2000s demonstrates his conservative credentials at the time.

Finally, to be clear, Romney did not institute government control of health care. Romney mandated that individuals purchase private insurance or face a penalty. I wonder where he got that idea? Well, it was from the right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation. The “left” that Baldwin claims to know desperately wants a single-payer system like the one that creates health care systems better than the U.S. in every industrialized country in the world. The conservative alternative was the individual mandate. Romney became a conservative social engineer for successfully instituting this conservative idea. And then it was successful. It all fell apart for conservatives when Democrats started saying, “meh, I guess we could settle for that.”

Recap: When Romney instituted his health care proposal = triumph of freedom and capitalism. When Obama instituted the same health care proposal = tyranny and socialism.

When I was first in college a friend of mine said he couldn’t think of “the Republican argument.” I responded that it wasn’t that the Republicans didn’t have an idea, it’s that the Democrats have accepted all the good ones. I was too young to fully grasp the issue triangulation strategy that would ultimately characterize the Bill Clinton presidency, but I was on to something. Cap and Trade was already earning acceptance with Democrats back then, foreshadowing the shift toward accepting the individual mandate.

Perhaps this is why Republicans have stopped coming up with ideas, settling for obstruction and denying any harms they cannot solve — they don’t want Democrats to get credit for their good ideas any more.

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