Where I live, in a tiny town on the Atlantic coast of tiny Delaware, I’m surrounded by the most liberal of Democrats. It’s like a mini-San Francisco of the east here. This gives me some good insight into what liberals are thinking these days. Here’s what I hear the most: “I am very disappointed by Obama. I know things aren’t good. But what does the Republican side have to offer? I could live with Mitt Romney, though.”
There you have it. Mitt Romney is a Republican that Obama supporters — people who will most certainly end up voting for Obama anyway — can live with.
I keep hearing, even from people who agree with me on politics that, “We have to get rid of Obama. Romney can do this. Gingrich probably can’t, nor could any of the others such as Ron Paul or Rick Perry. So hold your nose and support Romney.”
I understand the sentiment, and I hate Obama as much as the next libertarian/conservative/Objectivist. However, don’t be so sure that Romney is the answer. To see what I’m saying, think back to the election of 2008. That year, Republicans nominated a Republican in name only: John McCain. McCain, aside from being a lousy candidate who kept insisting that his opponent would make a great President, inspired no enthusiasm among libertarians, conservatives or other advocates of limited government, free market capitalism and individual rights. Obama, on the other hand, was at a peak with regard to support among liberals, who saw him as the Second Coming. There were more liberals in favor of Obama than there were non-liberals in favor of McCain. As a result, the turnout for McCain inevitably suffered while the turnout for Obama did not.
The election of 2008 was never going to be close, because Republicans and conservatives got the blame for the economic crisis that actually was made by both parties, and ultimately the brainchild of the ideology of the Democrats. No matter, it was to be a Democratic year. But in a closer election, as 2012 promises to be, that low turnout for Republicans can make all the difference.
That’s the problem with the argument, “Romney can win.” Romney cannot necessarily win if he doesn’t have the support of a conservative base. The base matters, especially in close elections. Yes, some conservatives will show up to vote for Romney in order to negate Obama. However, some will not. In human nature, a positive is much more powerful than a negation.
It’s crucial in an election year like this that voters be given an actual alternative. When Jimmy Carter ran against Ronald Reagan in 1980, everyone said that Ronald Reagan could not beat him. Ronald Reagan won in a landslide. There is no Ronald Reagan equivalent this year among Republicans; that much is plain. Republicans should expect no landslide. However, they have a chance of winning if they actually offer an alternative. The candidate needs to be able to say, “This is what Obama did wrong. This is what I will do differently.” Specifics are required, and, yes, ideology matters. The candidate must promise a concrete U-turn, because Obama’s policies have only made things worse and worse, and even some liberals privately concede this.
Romney does not and cannot offer a principled, clear and concrete alternative. First of all, he speaks in generalities. He tells you to refer to his 569-point economic plan. The vast majority of voters are not going to do this, and one wonders if Romney has read this plan himself. Secondly, Romney has no credibility. The greatest perceived outrage of the Obama Administration, from a non-liberal point-of-view, has been ObamaCare. Everybody knows that Romney was for ObamaCare before he was against it. He implemented it in his own state of Massachusetts. And he defends it to this day! This is worse than flip-flopping. Third, and to be fair, Romney does not claim to offer an alternative. Romney claims to offer a different and better management-style. He’s offering the tired old idea that, “Competence, not ideology, is what we need.” Isn’t it obvious that if Romney does more or less the same things to the economy that Obama has done, perhaps at 30 mph rather than 60 mph, that nothing whatsoever is going to change? Of course it’s obvious, and the majority of voters, whatever their ignorance or failings in other respects, will see this. In the end, they’ll go with Obama because it’s better to stick with the trouble you know.
Am I suggesting that Gingrich will surely win against Obama? No, because Gingrich has to first define himself as a candidate. He actually has to identify and prove that he has an ideology, and then concretize what his specific proposals will be. He has to prove that he will offer a complete U-turn away from Obama. If he successfully does this, he might win against Obama. If he takes the Romney approach, he absolutely will not.
Obama has failed, and even most Democrats see this. However, if you want to get rid of Obama, you have to offer an alternative. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with Obama a second time, regardless of who wins.