Opinion: Romney "Mr Good Enough"


Staff member
Dec 24, 2009
Wandering around
for your amusement

some good points made

Clinton, Iowa
Voters aren't convinced by Mitt Romney. They're not certain of his convictions; they wonder if he is the leader for these times; they're not sold on his policies or his personality. Yet voters may be about to make the former Massachusetts governor the Republican nominee for the presidency. Mark this down as the triumph of strategy over inspiration.
As Iowans head to their caucuses Tuesday, Mr. Romney has come from behind to lead in the polls. A victory here—where he was once written off—followed by a coup in New Hampshire could well knit up the nomination. That outcome would be the result of a lot of luck, mistakes by his rivals, and a shrewd—and ruthless—campaign by Mr. Romney himself.
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If there has been one threat to the governor, it has been the gaping opening for a candidate to his right. Mr. Romney is hardly an easy fit with the GOP base—from his past flip-flops on issues like abortion, to his weak tax proposals, to his concoction and defense of RomneyCare, the Massachusetts health plan that was the model for ObamaCare. The threat of President Obama and his determination to create an entitlement state, combined with the dismal economy, have voters eager for a bold conservative leader.
The Romney luck was that no such obvious reformer got into the race. Notable Republican governors—Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie—who could have run on executive experience and pro-growth track records took a pass. A younger, ideas generation—Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio—decided it was too soon for a run. This helped clear the field.
Not that the Republicans in the race were without resources. Each had the opportunity to unite a conservative coalition but fell from self-inflicted wounds. Tim Pawlenty—as a conservative governor from Minnesota and with his long planning for a presidential run—ought to have posed the greatest challenge. But his waffling on RomneyCare and his overemphasis on the Iowa straw poll (which he lost to Michele Bachmann) sucked the air out of his campaign. His bigger mistake may have been bowing to these defeats, misjudging the opportunity for a comeback in a muddled GOP field.
Rick Perry, also with a state success story to sell, entered the race at a near-perfect time. Yet he failed to do his homework and lost voter confidence with his bumbling debate performances. Ron Paul has inspired the limited-government crowd, even as his refusal to modulate his isolationist views has capped his potential.
Rick Santorum, he of dour countenance, chose a narrowly focused campaign, and until recently it had earned him only a narrow audience. He's now experiencing a surge on the back of evangelical support and a formidable ground organization, which might propel him to a strong Iowa finish. But his slow start, and subsequent poor fund raising, will hamper him in upcoming states.
Mrs. Bachmann made herself unpresidential. Herman Cain, 9-9-9 notwithstanding, forgot the rule about vetting one's own past. Jon Huntsman has failed to lead with his strong suit, namely a strong growth record in Utah.
The man who has lately posed the greatest threat to a Romney victory is the come-from-behind Newt Gingrich, whose snappy debate performances and policy insights touched a conservative chord. His pro-growth message has been a strong final argument but may not be enough to reverse weeks of damaging TV ads. The candidate was initially powerless to rebut the attacks, given his campaign's own major mistake—neglecting its fund raising and organizing.
Which gets us to Mr. Romney's campaign savvy. The governor lost the nomination in 2008 because of his lack of focus and a reputation for conveniently shifting message. Let's just say he learned something.
Throughout this campaign, he's resisted scattershot criticism of rivals, instead carefully pinpointing his biggest threats from the right and homing in on their biggest weaknesses. With Mr. Pawlenty, that job was relatively easy. Mr. Romney stepped back to allow the Minnesotan to implode, his restraint even earning him praise as "presidential."
A greater insight into the Romney machine came with Mr. Perry, whose threat resided in his broad credentials with a conservative audience. Mr. Romney's response was to target a relatively obscure liability—Mr. Perry's modest policy of letting young illegals pay in-state college tuition—and then to elevate it and tear it apart. Romney ads were brutal, comparing Mr. Perry to Barack Obama and Mexican President Vicente Fox on immigration, suggesting that the Texas governor would open the illegal floodgates. It proved a deal killer for many conservatives.
Next up was Mr. Gingrich, whose December surge, particularly among tea party voters, posed a late-game threat. Team Romney was quick to drill into its rival's "tons of baggage," including marital infidelity, the money he accepted from Freddie Mac and, again, the accusation that he supports "amnesty for illegal aliens." Between these and other attack ads, Mr. Gingrich's support was halved in little more than a week.
This is where four years of planning come in handy. Mr. Romney built a campaign war chest and a pro-Romney super PAC. The Romney campaign and the outside organization could spend millions on ads and mailers taking down rivals, allowing the candidate to remain above the fray and concentrate on his more positive message.
That message, by contrast to 2008, has been focused, unwavering, relentless. Mr. Romney has taken positions and stuck with them, even if it has meant defending the likes of RomneyCare. In Iowa, New Hampshire and everywhere else, voters have heard—again, and again, and again—the same two messages: He has the business and management experience to competently turn around the country, and he is the most electable against Mr. Obama.
That has seeped in, especially as voters must now make a selection—voters like 54-year-old Jane Lawler, who came to hear Mr. Romney speak at Homer's Deli here. Mrs. Lawler was leaning toward Mr. Gingrich, but her husband argued that the former House speaker "couldn't gather the troops and get it done." She now agrees. "In the end, I'm looking for someone who can beat Obama," and she notes the need for someone with Mr. Romney's "business acumen."
So while Mr. Romney may not excite them, while he may not be ideal, in light of the other candidate's problems, and given the election stakes, voters are buying his argument that he is, well . . . good enough. Which is why, barring a surprise, or a late entrant, Mr. Good Enough—through good fortune, dogged determination, and the skillful elimination of his rivals—may end up grabbing the conservative ring in this all-important election year.
Then the harder job starts. Mr. Obama may be hobbled by a poor economy and unpopular policies, but he is a first-order campaigner. He will energize his base, and his Republican opponent will have to do the same. It will not be enough for Mr. Romney to argue against Mr. Obama; he will have to inspire Republicans and independents to vote for his own vision.
Mr. Romney offers decent policies, and he's proven himself a hard worker, with growing campaign skills. The question is whether a victory in the primary will give him the confidence to break out, to take some risks, and to excite a nation that wants real change. In a presidential election, good enough might not be enough to win.
Ms. Strassel writes the Journal's Potomac Watch column.