Voting on a Prayer

Dave Weigel boldly travels into a realm I’d dare not go — the minds of those newspaper editorial boards that endorsed Obama in 2008 but went for Romney in 2012. It’s a land of magical thinking. And as Weigel is right to emphasize, it’s magical thinking premised on a shared, cynical view of American democracy. Weigel’s found a minimum of 21 Obama endorsement defectors, and claims 50 percent “are couched in the hope that Romney hornswoggled Republican primary voters and will govern as a moderate.” He continues:

It’s an odd view of the president and the presidency. The switchers pay almost no attention to Romney’s advisers. One example: His running mate is Paul Ryan, who led the budget committee in the House for the last two years. Ryan is rarely mentioned in these editorials, which means his voting record on spending or social issues never gets mentioned. “We’ve been turned off by his appeals to social conservatives and immigration extremists,” wrote the Orlando Sentinel’s editorial board, before asserting that these appeals were phony. Romney had shifted his focus, which “at least shows he understands that reviving the economy and repairing the government’s balance sheet are imperative,” and so he got the endorsement.

Most of these papers have this in common: They stop the clock on Romney’s “real” beliefs in 2006, and they restart it on Oct. 3.

The stopped clock, of course, lands at the end of Romney’s one term as governor of Massachusetts. It took him a long time to get there, but he got there. And he stayed there (at least half of the time). While he was there he passed “Romneycare,” the model Congress used in crafting “Obamacare” — which is now, according to Romney, on his own kind of presidential “kill list” — and he spent some of his time using his executive prerogative and state bureaucracy to hassle same-sex parents. He also vetoed 800 bills from the Democratic legislature he regularly brags of having cooperated with so painlessly.

As I said, I haven’t read nearly so many of these endorsements as Weigel. But I did read the “big” one, that of Iowa’s Des Moines Register, who in endorsing Romney selected their first Republican nominee for president since 1972. I scare-quote big because, as everyone but those few (effectively) self-aggrandizing Iowans understand, newspaper endorsements are worth about 25 cents short of a nickel.

Even still, I read it; and its logic — or rather weird absence thereof — matches Weigel’s description to a tee. The most frustrating element of this all isn’t these endorsement flip-flops assuming President Romney would return to his old ways, it’s that those old ways never really existed. The Register bases their best estimation of what a President Romney would actually do almost entirely on the example of his governorship. Hardly outrageous considering it’s his only time in public office.

Romney succeeded as governor in Massachusetts where he faced Democratic majorities in the legislature. If elected, he would have an opportunity to renew the effort. He would begin with an advantage in the House, where a Republican majority is likely to remain after the election. The challenge will be in the Senate, where it takes a super-majority to pass anything of substance.

Romney could be assured that Democrats would work to defeat him as hard as Republicans worked against Obama is if he were to adopt the reactionary agenda of the most extreme elements of the Republican Party. Romney had to tack to the right during the primary season. Since then, he has recalibrated [sic] his campaign to focus on his concern for the middle class, and that is believable if the real Mitt Romney is the one on display as governor of Massachusetts who passed a health care reform plan that became the model for the one passed by Congress.

In that godawful last sentence (I know that’s bitchy — but as GOB Bluth would say, c’mon) the editors, whether they know it or not, are staking the near-entirety of their Romney endorsement on one thing Romney did as governor. Not on his behavior throughout his governorship, or even of a series of accomplishments that might lessen the import of his tenure’s foibles,  but just on that one bill. Now don’t get me wrong: I’d rather Governor Romney passed health insurance reform than not. It was a good thing he did and, from what I know, he did it well.

But that’s a tall order, choosing the president on the basis of one single decision.

To his credit, Weigel briefly nods to a heretofore unacknowledged reality that deserves highlighting:

The editorial writers don’t know [what President Romney would do]. But they know that he should. And to be overly fair, this was the thrown-together logic that got a record number of newspapers behind Obama in 2008.

In the leaps of faith Romney’s newspaper boosters must make to reach his arms, any disabused leftwing supporter of Barack Obama, whether they’ve been shattered or merely rattled, should be able to see at least a faint reflection of their former selves. Ah, but we were so much older then…

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54 thoughts on “Voting on a Prayer

  1. Eh, I’m no fan of Romney, but this “only people who are far dumber than me could possibly support Romney or believe he’s not a dyed-in-the-wool-tea-partier” schtick is getting tiresome.

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    • As I said in the Time Capsule thread:

      Romney is a train wreck, a miserable failure as a leader (even moreso than Bush, which is hard to believe). He’s a liar, an opportunist, he should have crashed and burned months ago. His two latest gaffes — pissing off the Red Cross and the CEOs of two auto companies — ought to have been enough to finish the job.

      [He’s] made a career of killing small businesses and destroying jobs and he’s still at 50%.

      Why on earth WOULD you vote for this a**hole?

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      • Then let’s consider his flip-flops on FEMA.

        He wants to eliminate it from the budget — entirely. Then, Sandy hits and he thinks it’s great. Until he’s confronted with his flip-flops and a spokesperson says he’s against it again. Now he says that disaster relief will come from “somewhere”.

        Probably the same magic pixie dust that allows him to reduce taxes on the middle class, increase defense spending AND reduce the deficit.

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  2. In that godawful last sentence (I know that’s bitchy — but as GOB Bluth would say, c’mon) the editors, whether they know it or not, are staking the near-entirety of their Romney endorsement on one thing Romney did as governor.

    Eh, much of my “he won’t be *THAT* bad” intuitions come from many of the things he was more than happy to say when he was running for the job in the first place (yay women’s rights! yay gay people! yay money!) and the handful of token gestures he made to demonstrate that he wasn’t a *SCARY* republican once he was actually in office (see, for example, the things he had to disavow when “real” republicans found out about them).

    All of the stuff that was pointed out to Republicans early in the primary season for why they shouldn’t vote for Mitt (including Romneycare) is much of the reason that he’s not seen as *THAT* threatening by newspaper editorial types.

    Yay women’s rights. Yay gay people. Yay money.

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    • I’d love to hear one conservative explain why Romney should be trusted to stand up to the rabid teabaggers in the House. I don’t believe Felonious Mittflop has ever been genuinely moderate unless forced to be a good boy by electoral circumstances or a Democratic majority – as in Massachusetts.

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      • I’d love to hear one conservative explain why Romney should be trusted to stand up to the rabid teabaggers in the House.

        Funny. The teabaggers I know waffle about whether Romney can be trusted to stand up to the Democrats… because when has Romney ever been genuinely Conservative? All they can point to is how “Moderate” he was when he was in Massachusetts.

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          • My opinion of teabaggers tends to be much higher than most who use that term (then again, I still tend to associate them with fiscal issues and social agnosticism) and I look at the house and I don’t see any even close to a teabagger majority. The establishment still has a lock on the joint.

            When I see Romney, I see Four More Years.

            Edit: I should point out that Obama is better on social issues than I thought he’d be (though nowhere near as good as I’d hoped he’d be. If there’s a significant difference, it’s there. Romney and Ryan have said that they’d leave the repeal of DADT alone but… I can see how that would not be of particular interest to people who care about equality).

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              • If the teabaggers care about fiscal responsibility, they have a very strange way of showing it. Not that their economic ignorance is particularly surprising. Let’s remember that they were perfectly happy to damage the faith and credit of the United States just to score ideological points, that they are in thrall to Grover Norquist’s kooky pledges, that they have no concept of investing for the future, and that their only real plan – which they take great care not to acknowledge too publicly – is tax cuts for the rich and screw America’s future. These are not people who deserve any respect or trust, to put it charitably.

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  3. “is much of the reason that he’s not seen as *THAT* threatening by newspaper editorial types.”

    No. The reason he’s not seen as threatening is because he’s a rich white man who is considered a part of the political establishment. Do you think the media would allow an unknown from someplace like Wyoming or Iowa to get away with what Romney has? Do you think someone like, say, Howard Dean could have walked into a foreign policy debate and completely abandoned his stated position on the war in Afghanistan without justification or explanation?

    Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the media like Romney. But they do view him as “one of us” and give him a benefit of the doubt that does not get extended to those seen as outsiders.

    Mike

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      • Who knows? But I gotta agree — endorsing a guy based on what amounts to admitted mind-reading is, well, a unique approach.

        “Ignore what he’s said, we’ve seen his soul and this is what he’ll do”.

        I must applaud Romney. He has managed to achieve perfection — he is the Generic Republican, upon which anyone can project their ideal version the GOP.

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          • Well, here’s the thing: Do we judge him by what he does? Or what he says he’s going to do? What he did a decade ago?

            I know what he did in Mass. I know what he did during the primaries. I know what he said then. I know what he said now. They all contradict each other.

            I’d say “he changed his mind”, but well, nobody changes their mind that often between the start of the primaries and now.

            So yeah, in this case? Kinda crazy to base your endorsement on what he did a decade ago — ignoring what he’s done and said in the last two years entirely. I mean, he’s repudiated virtually everything he did in Mass.

            I gotta tell you — I know three things about Mitt Romney. Know for *certain*. One, he really wants to cut his own taxes. Like REALLY BAD. That’s the one, unvarying cosntant of his candidacy. The one thing he’s never really gone back on.

            Two, he wants to be President.

            Three, he tells people what they want to hear, even if it’s the opposite of what he told people last week.

            That last part kinda makes it hard to judge his agenda.

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            • Three, he tells people what they want to hear, even if it’s the opposite of what he told people last week.

              That last part kinda makes it hard to judge his agenda.

              Agreed. 100%.

              However, given the opinion polls, I think that it’s closer to safe to say that people want to hear mainstream middle of the road stuff rather than teabaggery. *THAT* is why I suspect that the folks leading Romney around by the nose will be The People rather than The Teabaggers.

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              • Adding to this, let’s keep in mind that a Romney elected to the White House would immediately become concerned with reelection to the White House, and the same political calculus that led him to move toward the center for the general election would likely tell him to not move too far to the right in his governing style. Even if it was Massachusetts politics that kept him moderate as a governor, he’s shown he can work with that, and he’s never looked comfortable when spouting the more conservative line.

                I think those claiming he’s best understood as pure establishment are in the right of it, and while I think he’s enough of a windsock to lean more to the moderate side if Dems hold Congress and lean more to the conservative side if the Repubs hold Congress, he’ll never do more than lean–the guy’s not about to march off to one side or the other.

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                • So your endorsement boils down to:

                  “Romney is a weak vacillating hood ornament who will bend whichever way the political winds lean.
                  So vote for him, and pray for a moderate sensible cabal of advisors backed by a reasonable centrist Congress.”

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                • Hi James –

                  You’re something of a presidential scholar if I recall. Has there ever been another candidate for POTUS that has run so overtly as a windsock? Romney hasn’t really made any effort to hide his willingness to say whatever people want him to say in any given moment. And considering how close the election is, he hasn’t paid any price for that either.

                  Is there precedent for this kind of campaign or would a Romney win set precedent?

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                  • Scott,

                    Only a pseudo-professional professional scholar. I teach a presidency course every couple of years (and don’t really enjoy doing so). And I know more about presidential administration than about campaigning.

                    But in thinking about this, I can’t think of a president. To begin, modern presidential campaigns are at most about a century old–before that it was considered unseemly to aggressively campaign. FDR’s 1932 campaign might reasonably be called the start of the modern presidential campaign.

                    On top of that, the modern presidential campaign has changed as the primary process became solidified, which really only happened in 1968-1972. Before that party bigwigsstill held the key to the election. Because primary voters tend to be the party faithful, the primaries skew more left and more right than the general electorate, so that led to the phenomenon of running to the left/right in the primary then back to the center in the general election. But if we think of the candidates in the immediate post ’68-72 era–Carter, Ford, Reagan, Mondale, Bush, Dukakis, Clinton–I don’t think we see any that didn’t have a relatively more focused set of political positions.

                    And then we have the great shift in party dynamics, which began as a consequence of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and became finalized when Republicans took over the House in the ’94 elections (which led the remaining conservative southern Dems–the Boll Weevils–to finally switch to the Republican Party), that unbalanced both parties. The Dems lost their conservative wing and their center moved left (although not as far left as our League progressives would like). The GOP then became more and more dominated by the southern-style conservatives, as the South became it’s great population base. Initially this didn’t stop a Bob Dole from being nominated, and while he didn’t stand for much more than more farm subsidies, at least he wasn’t a total windsock (and I don’t really do him credit, but I kind of like Dole). Bush managed to unite both the business and the southern-style conservative wings of the parties in a fairly coherent and consistent way. McCain tried to, especially with the selection of Palin as his running mate, but didn’t really succeed, and that exposed the real cracks in the party.

                    Which brings us to Romney. With those cracks in the GOP so exposed, he felt he had to play the right winger if he was ever going to win the nomination. Despite the staunch backing he got from the establishment, he might have been right about that, and he still might have lost if the conservatives could have found a non-screwup candidate to rally around. But the party has become too unbalanced to have general election appeal. Despite the continued presence of the establishment types, the GOP has really lost moderates hand over fist since 1994. (I personally know a surprisingly large number of former Republicans, all moderates who feel the party shifted way to the right of them.) Romney knows this, and knows that he has to try to be more moderate in the general election. The etch-a-sketch comment by his aide was just political reality.

                    Now Romney possibly has been able to do this as well as he has because he really does lack much of a center. But maybe it’s just that he has a center and it’s just not such an ideologically fervent position that he’s willing to (politically) die for it. My take is he seems himself as a very non-ideological, pragmatic, managerial type–rather than go to the wall for a particular political position he’ll work with the possibilities given him and see what he can make out of them. Someone less like that might not have gotten to where he is–both managing to win the primaries and managing to be within shot of winning the general election.

                    So the answer, at my best guess, is no, we probably haven’t seen anyone campaign like this before, but it’s probably the political circumstances as much or more than the person that is the cause of it.

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                    • Thanks for the history, James. That is my sense of it as well. Romney is well-suited for the chameleon act and a willing player, but circumstances have dictated a good deal of it.

                      Which is why my concern with a Romney win has somewhat less to do with him than with what he represents. He may be the first Etch-a-Sketch candidate, but if he wins, he certainly won’t be the last.

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                    • Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the playwright [1], was also an MP. His son Tom, who had no strong Party views, once told him ”If I were in Parliament, I would write upon my forehead ”To Let”, to which his father replied ”Add ‘unfurnished”’.

                      1. If you haven’t read The Rivals and The School for Scandal, you have no one to blame but yourself. And the people who brought up and claimed to have educated you.

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                • My issue with Mitt is that he is a windsock. You can say that that’d lead him to be led by “The People” but I see it differently. Mitt’s victory will affirm to him two things:
                  -That if he swears fealty to the base enough they’ll support him.
                  -That “The People” are low info, not paying attention and that he can lie his way past them.

                  As President he’ll be 100% interested in being re-elected. What will that mean for him having been elected with these things in mind? It’ll mean
                  – He cannot, must not whatever he does piss off his base because he’ll desperately need them and he won’t have a loathed (by his base) Obama to run against in his next election.
                  – Whatever he does that annoys the center he can try and obfuscate his way past just like he just did in his current election.

                  So what does that mean policy wise? It means he’ll be a rubber stamp for a GOP controlled Congress which he’ll undoubtedly have for at least 2 years. It means he’ll probably go along with much of what his (Bush II warmed over neocon) foreign advisors ask for.

                  So from where I sit I see either continuing huge deficits or else an austerity induced recession (depending on if the GOP reverts to form and doesn’t care about the debt once their guy is in office or not) , socially conservative social policies and war with Iran.

                  And it also means an utter repudiation of Obamaism which means the Dems are gonna have a very foul taste in their mouth any time someone talks about bipartisanship.

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  4. But that’s a tall order, choosing the president on the basis of one single decision.

    Well, that was Obama’s biggest advantage last time – we got a chance to pick a president who had made no decisions over one that had made some poor ones.

    Now, of course, he has a record, and there are some good decisions, and some bad ones, but he’s lucky (as he’s almost always been) with who was selected as his opponent.

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    • You know, you don’t get lucky in your opponents so consistently without doing quite a few things right. I suspect Obama’s greatest political talent is picking people who know how to win. Romney, on the other hand, has a team of bungling babblers who have served him pretty poorly for the last year. That says something fairly significant about a key area of their executive performance.

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  5. To be consistent, quite a few newspapers would have to flip, depending on why they’d endorsed Obama last time. If it had been to lower the deficits and get Americans back to work, then they’d have trouble supporting Obama based on his record and would shift to Romney. If they endorsed Obama to close Gitmo and implement single-payer healthcare, they’re still screwed but wouldn’t flip.

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  6. Take note of the Register’s sly characterization of Romney’s Massachusetts health care bill as nonpartisan concern for the middle class. Obama moved to the middle by adopting a pretty conservative health care bill, but history’s being rewritten to paint Romney as nonpartisan because he pushed through a bill borne out of the Heritage Foundation. Unbelievable.

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  7. What Romney did in a blue state with a Democratic legislature does not seem like a strong predictor for what he would do as president with a Republican congress.

    For myself, I can’t see any rationality or morality in voting for or endorsing someone who has advocated bringing back torture and expanding Guantanamo, who warmongers against Iran at every chance, who supports the dispossession and oppression of the Palestinians, and who regards offending other nations as a goal in and of itself.

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