I spent a good part of the day today hungry for news about how things are going in South Carolina. Like many, I’m ardently hopeful that Mitt Romney can knock out his competition on Saturday in the GOP primary so we can move on to replacing Barack Obama without all the Republicans emptying their war chests fighting each other. I agree with Michele Bachmann that President Obama is taking the country down a path of no return. Once the government begins providing medical care for its citizens, for example, there’s no turning back, and I believe our system was never intended to have a Federal government that large. Such a strong Federal government, with power to both give you everything and take everything away, is a threat to your liberty, and the related cost will be a threat to our country’s sovereignty. That’s the way I feel.
Since Newt seems to be Mitt’s closest competition in South Carolina, I thought I’d provide a few headlines for you to peruse:
Newt Can Hardly Contain Himself
Today Newt must have felt emboldened since he made a few more outlandish statements to add to his growing list. For example, on the stump he espoused a first amendment-violating religious litmus test for people joining his administration, saying any muslims need not apply unless they are willing to take an oath rejecting Sharia law. While I agree religious law has no place in the law of the United States, such an oath to disavow your personal beliefs to be able to serve your country violates my sense of religious freedom, and to call all Muslims religious extremists is offensive, of questionable judgment and very likely to get Newt in trouble, again.
GOP faithful will also remember that while Sarah Palin has become somewhat of an icon in the Tea Party movement, her selection by McCain as his running mate in 2008 was widely panned and, again, largely rejected by independents. Nevertheless, Newt, seemingly feeling good about his chances, stated Palin would have some role in his administration, with speculation that may mean as Vice President. Finally, in apparent outreach to the very far right on economic issues, he today advocated a commission to study going back to the gold standard.
While Newt may have had a couple good lines in the debate, we need to remember this is the same old guy that spiked then crashed earlier this season. He may pick up a few points, but with continued statements like this he’ll crash again. You know it. I know it. Rick Perry said in the debate it’s important that we vett our candidate today, and not find out in September he’s unelectable. Well, we know today what the answer is about Newt.
Meanwhile, unlike Newt, Mitt continues to show he’s the best situated to defeat Obama. This is proven by a recent series of polls showing Mitt leading President Obama in six key swing states. It’s also proven by poll after poll showing Mitt ahead of Newt nationwide. Numbers show Mitt anywhere from 3% to 17% ahead of Newt and in a dead heat vs. Obama, while Newt trails Obama by 11%. The polling doesn’t lie: while Newt has on occasion been able to deliver a more visceral punch, Mitt is seen as more “presidential,” better able to rise above the fray and more likely to truly be able to take on Obama, who will, by virtue of his current job, appear presidential. And Mitt’s no slouch at debating, either. If your goal is to replace Obama, there’s really only one choice, on the electability meter and all other measures: Mitt Romney.
The Importance of Independents
One big reason for these numbers is Mitt’s appeal among independents. Why are they important?
The last few presidential elections have been very close. George Bush won twice by very thin margins. Even in 2008, the margin of victory in the popular vote by President Obama was not great on a percentage basis. We are, at our root, a fairly evenly-divided country, with a slight majority just to the right of center. We can look at the last three elections, all during times of increasing partisanship, and know one thing: it’s the independents who pick the President of the United States. Conservatives will choose the Republican candidate. Liberals will choose the Democratic candidate. And aside from a few people who vote 3d party, the rest of the folks cast their vote according to their conscience. Interestingly, in times of great partisanship, it’s the people that are middle-of-the-road that decide this country’s direction, no matter how badly we want to push the country to the right or the left.
This means that people of extreme views have a very hard time winning, particularly against incumbents, no matter how unpopular. Barack Obama, I believe, was successful in attracting independents because of their frustration with the war in Iraq and general malaise with the policies of President Bush. This, together with President Obama’s soaring rhetoric about “hope” and “change” convinced many to overlook his extremely left views. I believe the election this time will in fact be a referendum on his failed economic policies, independents will still need to be convinced that the GOP candidate is the right answer for the country. Someone from the far right is much less likely to win those voters. To be sure to replace President Obama, the GOP must nominate someone that most independents can find their way to agreeing with. That person is Mitt Romney, not Newt Gingrich.
Beyond his ability to replace Obama, which can’t be over-emphasized, the reasons why I think Mitt’s the right choice are numerous: he understands what it takes to create jobs. He has the capacity to study what’s wrong with our system and turn it around (he spent his life turning around troubled companies and making them successful). Jack Welch of GE said Mitt is the best qualified candidate to run for President he’s seen. Mitt’s a great family man. He’s ardently pro-life. He’s an expert at balancing budgets without raising taxes. The list truly goes on and on. It’s as if he was born for this job, for this moment, when the US needs a turnaround expert. But even if people aren’t convinced by Mitt’s many “external” qualities, as I’ve described before I’ve had the chance to spend some time near his extended family, and feel like I’ve seen enough to know Mitt’s genuine and a very, very good person. As a result I don’t buy the “flip-flopper” label, which assumes Mitt changed his positions for political gain. I’m convinced he didn’t. His family is full of people of character, and I’ve learned over time that an organization reflects the qualities of its leader, good or bad. From what I’ve seen of how he’s led his family, he’s what this country sorely needs.
The Other Choices
But Mitt is battling four other candidates in South Carolina. Ron Paul has many followers and a unique political view. I believe his support has a limit and that he is not a viable candidate for the nomination. Rick Perry is now dangerously close to the level of support Huntsman had when he pulled out, and I expect he will not survive South Carolina. That leaves Rick Santorum and Newt. While I appreciate the former’s solid support of social issues, even people who agree with him find him extreme, and he also lost his last election in his home state of Pennsylvania, a swing state the GOP will need in 2012. While he’s appreciated by the right, independents will not support him. That leaves us back discussing Mr. Gingrich.
The Particular Problem With Mr. Gingrich
Mr. Gingrich is an enigma given his ability to defend conservatism, followed quickly by his seeming inability to keep himself from turning and attacking it without principle. His defense of work vs. welfare in Monday’s debate was impressive, though it must be remembered he was using it to support the idea of child labor, an idea that’s going nowhere with independents. This debate came the same week Mr. Gingrich entered into a full-scale assault on private equity investment that was rejected by the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Gingrich’s ally Rudy Giuliani and most of the GOP. These positions as an inconsistent conservative are just the latest examples of Mr. Gingrich’s propensity to come up with any number of ideas to solve the country’s woes, some good, and some incredibly bad. Unfortunately, I do not believe Mr. Gingrich has the ability to discern the difference, the humility to try or the discipline to implement them.
Newt’s Other Baggage
And while I want to be delicate, none of Newt’s other baggage has gone away. I was surprised to hear someone say recently they were unaware Newt is on his third marriage, and that he left his two prior wives to marry the next. People may also forget that his first wife was also his high school teacher. One of these two former wives he left in difficult circumstances while she was recovering from cancer, telling one she was not pretty enough to be the wife of the President. It was also during his second extra-marital affair that he led the charge to impeach President Clinton for his Oval Office escapades. Mr. Gingrich claims he has sought divine forgiveness for his marital issues, and I’ll take his statements to this effect at face value. But there’s a pattern here that fits into the broader picture of Mr. Gingrich’s life: he is not someone it pays to trust.
Further, Newt is still the same person that was forced by his own party to resign, who had over $300,000 in fines levied against him for over a hundred ethics violations. If he’s reformed, it really hasn’t shown. He’s the same person recently described as “leading by chaos.” While he may be good in a debate of the merits of conservatism vs. liberalism, I don’t believe that’s what will sway the independents in this election.
Good Newt vs. Bad Newt
Newt claims he’s changed since the old days, and that he’s a 68 year old grandfather now who’s mellowed with time. But the press this cycle has played the game of waiting to spot the changes back and forth from “good Newt” to “bad Newt.” And we’ve seen bad Newt a few times. Like in his attack on capitalism, that he tried to retreat from, then pursued, then retreated from again. Like in his bitterness after his record was made bare by Super PAC ads in Iowa, and the “Mitt made me do it” argument as to why he went negative after the firmest of commitments to run a positive campaign. Like in his nearly gleeful statements, both a month ago and just again yesterday, that he was certain he’d be the nominee, despite not finishing in the top 3 in any contest to date. Newt seems to believe he can best President Obama in a debate. But even if he could, it’s unlikely in my view independents would buy it, but instead I fully expect that someone with as bombastic a style as Gingrich would be sent home.
Who Do You Really Want in the Oval Office Running Our Country?
Finally, lest we forget, we’re trying to elect the best man to be President. Even if I believed that both Mitt and Mr. Gingrich could defeat Obama, I could frankly not see Newt in the Oval Office running our country. I fear his anger or the intoxication of power would get the best of him and he would do something foolish. While I hope he’s sincere when he says he’s a changed man, I’m most confident with Mitt, not Newt, not repeating the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Recall that after that scandal, President Clinton lost all moral authority to lead, and so would the next president to fall into that trap. I worry a lot as well about Newt becoming angry, or just being unable to manage those around him (as he was when he was unable to manage Congress in the late 90s or his campaign earlier this year). I’ve seen no indication Newt has the ability to control himself long enough to actually govern. Being President is hard work: lots of tedium dealing with the details of running the executive branch, the largest enterprise in the world. I’ve not seen that Newt has anywhere near the patience to suffer through the necessary pain to make the right decisions. I’d expect him to be an even more absentee president than Obama, but even worse since his rhetoric would inflame the other side to the point he’d be unable to work with them. On foreign policy, his administration would be just as likely to offend our allies as our enemies (remember his comment riling up Palestinians by calling them an “invented people,” making Israel’s efforts at peace harder). I also don’t believe anyone can both throw ideological bombs like he does, then work across the aisle, as will be required with Congress. Mitt, on the other hand, has demonstrated these abilities in spades. He’s patient, studious, attentive to detail and diplomatic with the other side. And strong when it counts, not when he wants to score personal points.
South Carolina, You Can Begin the End of Barack Obama
So I’m asking South Carolina to remember what’s gone before, and to look forward to what can be. Just a few days ago Newt was attacking free market principles. Just a few weeks ago Newt wanted to arrest Supreme Court justices for decisions he didn’t like. Just a few months ago his entire campaign staff walked out on him and he had a $500,000 bill at Tiffany’s. And just a few years ago he was thrown out of Congress by his own party for “inability to play with others” and ethics violations, all while having serious issues in his personal life. As a result of his inability to organize he’s not on the ballot in many states, including his home state of Virginia. South Carolinians now have the choice between this man and a man who’s been married to the same woman for 42 years, served by saving the Olympic games, has enough personal discipline to always be the most prepared debater in the crowd, and has the managerial experience to turn around troubled enterprises. Can you imagine anyone we need worse than a turnaround expert for our economy? And if you don’t like the size of the Federal government, you may be in for a treat as Mitt’s skills at eliminating inefficiency kick in. You can pick Newt to send off to ultimate defeat in November, guarantying four more years of Obama and making Obamacare permanent, or you can nominate Mitt Romney to let him start the business of taking on Obama, saving the Republican war chest for fighting Democrats, and begin the end of Obama and Obamacare.
South Carolina, the future of our country is in your hands. Let’s get it done.