When Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities about London and Paris, he described the French Revolution and the overthrow of the French Aristocracy and how the actions of that revolution spilled over to Britain. The French embraced the tenets of The Enlightenment as the drivers for change. The Republican Party is straining for a 2012 Enlightenment of its own to revitalize and create the best platform for change to win in November and once again capture the allure of the Grand Ole Party and scoop up Republicans, Independents and perhaps some Democrats as well. The question is which Republican Party will challenge President Obama and which GOP candidate will encompass all that is considered best, electable and presidential by the voters.
The Republican Party is a tale of dueling philosophies of conservative and moderate elements within the party establishment, and one candidate is attempting to meet in the middle: Mitt Romney. His campaign gurus are ready to be flexible and strategize with the pulse of the GOP either way in order for Mr. Romney to get the top spot in his party. This methodology can work to Romney’s benefit while seeking nomination but could come back to haunt him in the presidential race against President Obama. He has already changed his position on abortion from choice to opposing abortions and favoring the overthrow of Roe v. Wade. While running a conservative candidacy ship, this is in his favor; however, if he wins the nomination he will have to answer to Democrats who will surely call him on flip-flopping.
Will the Republican Party of 2012 be the party of Teddy Roosevelt that “speaks softly but carries a big stick,” the party that busted monopolies to ensure the Republican principle of competition in a free market economy? T.R. didn’t shrink from war either -- as Secretary of the Navy, he led the Rough Riders in the Spanish American War.
Or will it be the moderate Republican Party of Eisenhower that ended the Korean War and presided over eight years of peace and economic growth that created our interstate highway system, resulting in growth, jobs and the rise of the middle class? Will his warning -- beware of “the military industrial complex” -- influence the choice of the Republican candidate to run against President Obama in the fall?
In 1964, the GOP was severely divided between moderate and conservative elements lining up geographically between Northern Republicans and the Southern and Southwest factions: Barry Goldwater from Arizona on the conservative side andfrom New York representing the moderates. Conservatives favored low taxes, reduced government, individual rights and business interests and opposed social welfare programs. Conversely, the Eastern Republicans were considered not much different from liberal Democrats in ideology and governance. Plagued by a scandal over his divorce and marriage to a woman 15 years his junior, Nelson Rockefeller lost the bid to the ultra conservative Barry Goldwater in a California primary showdown. What makes this election stand out now, however, is that Goldwater ultimately lost to Lyndon Johnson, as he was portrayed as a radical extremist and dangerous conservative which made him unelectable. The Republican Party didn’t nominate the most electable candidate who could appeal to the moderates in his party or cross over Democratic swing voters and Independents.
The Romney camp, however, is taking some pages out of political playbooks of the past. The campaigns of yesteryear reveal that ultra conservative positions are less appealing to the general voting public in national elections including members of both parties and Independents. While the other candidates for the Republican nomination jockey for conservative/libertarian positions and fight among themselves, Romney continues on message as a moderate with conservative overtones. Obtaining the party’s nomination and getting to the White House requires not shooting yourself in the foot while still in the primaries with an unelectable platform, and keeping an eye on the presidential prize. Sometimes no tactics are better than poorly executed ones. Choosing speaking engagements wisely and measuring exposure to the press can be beneficial, and the former governor is adept at these strategies in political warfare, even with the recent gaff. Smart campaigns communicate a consistent message in media markets building confidence and trust, rather than engaging in squabbles with competitors that could prove detrimental when the serious campaigning begins after the party conventions. The public has a long memory for discord.
Mitt Romney’s campaign platform is carefully crafted not to tilt too far left or right to keep the confidence and trust of Republican voters and still not alienate everyone else in the process. This has kept him in favor with some conservatives and moderates. While his conservative competition chides him now for the comprehensive health care legislation in Massachusetts when he was governor, this will likely fare well in a national election and help secure his moderate status.
At the voting polls in New Hampshire, one woman told a reporter, “Romney is really a Democrat!” But she also countered that she would vote for him in the fall and not Obama. What better testament could a candidate have for maintaining moderate status among a field of ultra conservatives in the Republican Party?
Romney's “I like to fire people” has been his most quoted statement lately. This was taken out of context, as he was talking about firing insurance companies. In remarks to the New York Times, he was able to turn this into a political opportunity to jab President Obama. Asking about his remarks, Romney clarified: “I was talking about, as you know, insurance companies. We’d all like to get rid of our insurance companies — don’t want Obama to tell us we can’t.”
One of the characteristics of successful campaigning is turning a negative into a positive, and Romney could end up coming out on top with this one -- not only in the primaries, but possibly if he and Obama face off in the fall.
Mitt Romney so far has run a smart campaign and has weathered the best and worst of what the Republican Party represents, and he has distanced himself from the ultra conservatives to maintain a moderate ideology. With tensions growing, however, between the two conservative wings of the party, namely the tea party groups who want a pure, small government and the evangelical Christians who want a social conservative, they threaten to splinter the party or consolidate it against the former governor, which could be the worst GOP scenario in the fall.
While Republicans volley for a conservative or libertarian candidate, Romney remains the outsider as a moderate, which on the national stage makes him the most electable in the fall. Will the Republicans make the same mistake they did in 1964 or realize that, in order to win in November, they need a candidate who appeals nationally to all factions of their own party as well as cross over Democratic swing voters and Independents?