Mitt Romney is a great person and a decent politician, but he also embodies the deepest problems in the Republican Party. He shouldn't run for president.
Republicans, if they want to control Congress or win the White House, need to become a Party of the People. Romney may be the worst possible man to take the GOP in that direction.
Romney’s most telling moment in 2012 was when he told a crowd of rich donors that the 47 percent of the country that “pay no income tax” are unwinnable for Republicans, because they “are dependent upon government,” and “I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Romney has downplayed the comment as some sort of clumsy way of handling a rambling question. But he campaigned like he believed it. Romney focused on the upper-middle-class white suburbs that Bush had generally won and McCain had generally lost. The fruit of this effort: he improved about 1 percentage point on McCain’s performance in key Ohio, Virginia, and Pennsylvania suburbs, while losing out on much of the blue-collar vote.
“The Missing White Voter” was how political analyst Sean Trende described it. Many blue-collar voters who used to be Democrats have since been turned off the party’s radical tack left on social issues, embrace of Hollywood elites, and evident disdain towards middle America (recall Obama’s candid remarks about folks bitterly clinging to guns and religion).
These voters, in lower-income suburbs, in exurbs, and in rural counties, aren’t ideologically committed to the GOP. They don’t care about capital gains tax cuts, and most aren’t avid pro-lifers. These blue-collar voters driven away from the Democrats are loosely attached to the GOP.
Romney, a millionaire who looks like one, was never the guy to win them over. That he blasted many of them as freeloaders for the crime of paying only payroll taxes, property taxes, excise taxes, state income taxes, and sales taxes — but not federal income taxes — didn’t help.
The mainstream media often argues that the GOP is too ideologically extreme to win broadly, and that it needs to become more moderate. This analysis looks along the wrong axis. The real problem is that the GOP is too elite, and it needs to be more populist.
A more moderate GOP would forget about cutting taxes. A more populist GOP, on the other hand, would change its priorities on which taxes to cut. Instead of fighting for lower top rates and lower capital gains rates, a populist GOP would cut the payroll tax — maybe creating a personal exemption, so that a worker isn’t paying taxes on his first dollar.
Romney would consider this anathema — it boosts “dependency,” according to his 47% philosophy. This is absurd. Conservatives aren’t supposed to call it welfare when a worker keeps more of his own money.
Romney’s campaign was also weakened by his inability to attack Obama’s corporatism. Obama’s least popular position was probably his crucial support for the Wall Street bailout. Romney backed it, too.
Obama’s most dishonest attack involved the New York Times headline on a Romney op-ed: “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” Romney couldn’t forcefully defend himself from Obama’s misrepresentation, because in the op-ed Romney was calling for the same sort of bailout-with-managed-bankruptcy Obama ended up implementing.
Romney also couldn't attack Obama's individual insurance mandate or the special deals Obama cut with drugmakers to pass Obamacare, because Obamacare was largely modeled on Romneycare.
The 2016 GOP nominee can’t be a bailout-backer deployed from Wall Street and surrounded by K Street. He or she will need to be the scourge of special interests who can present free enterprise as the great leveler and show that government intervention tilts the playing field toward the big guys.
Winning the White House will require a war on cronyism, especially if Hillary Clinton is the nominee. The ethanol mandate, Obamacare’s insurance bailout, the Export-Import Bank, the sugar program, energy subsidies, Too Big to Fail — these all need to be in Republicans' crosshairs. Traditionally, Romney favors programs like these.
Republicans are never going to get back the White Bread vote. They should instead go for the blue-collar vote. That means new priorities. And a new candidate.Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.