Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Mitt Romney's Odd Turns

Having observed Mitt Romney as governor of Massachusetts for four years, I don't consider his mixture of positions to be one of the novel combinations that signal Political Horizons. Rather I think this former venture capitalist treated the office like a four-year consulting contract. When it became apparent that it wasn't going to be renewed, he stopped work, and spent most of his last year as "governor" outside the state, running for the Republican presidential nomination.

I do think Mitt is smart, a good fundraiser, and a super-salesman, so I try to think about what he thinks he's doing. My view in general that no one really wants the 2008 Repub nomination, so he might well be positioning himself as everyone's second choice on the reasonable theory that the front runners (McCain and Giuliani so far) will falter. I also thought he could construct a kind of narrative out of his business and Olympics background, and the relative success of Massachusetts in recent years, that he was a pragmatic and effective fellow. This would allow him to play events in the Iraq war and national economy either way.

But that isn't what he did, and it's not his strategy. It turns out that Romney's idea was that the religious right controls the Republican nomination, and that he should be everyone's social conservative second-choice. His business credentials provide him the money to knock out the more consistent but unappealing religious conservatives in the race.

Now, I'm notoriously bad at picking elections, that goes with the territory out here at the political horizons. But I think Romney's strategy has several problems:

1. The religious right are not the most stable voting element in the Republican party. Prior to 2000 and 2004 they didn't vote in large numbers, and many are poor, elderly, and minorities who may split off on fiscal policies. Their leaders have already signaled Bush to forget about changing social security, and they show signs of dividing on Iraq and the environment.

2. Despite a lot of pork in the faith-based initiatives department, the second Bush administration has not really delivered major results for social conservatives.

3. Even if Romney can hold reassemble Bush's coalition of business Republicans and social conservatives (Holding onto it won't do with presidential approval ratings in the 30s.) to win the nomination, what does he do in the general election? He can no longer go either way on Iraq, and will be constrained on the economy, which ought to be a strong point for him.

He will (or would) have an opponent, and that will be one of the Democrats, so anything can happen. But from here it looks like Romney is painting himself and his supporters into a very expensive corner.