Relections on Romney, Part Two

Mitt Romney’s message of good government and innovation resonates with James Pinkerton, and Pinkerton does a good job of explaining why it should resonate with voters. Pinkerton may be a bit unfair when he asks, rhetorically, whether John McCain “has demonstrated the capacity to look upon the current mess with fresh eyes.” Actually, McCain has been pretty innovative, especially for a Senator. Too innovative, at times, for me.
It’s true, though, that McCain can’t match Romney’s administrative and executive experience. However, Romney’s other main rival, Rudy Giuliani, has extremely impressive administrative credentials, having served as the mayor of New York. And given Giuliani’s success in that capacity, it will sound like a quibble to suggest that his range of administrative experience may lack the depth of Romney’s.
Pinkerton notes that Romney did not take conservative positions on certain social issues until recently. Most social conservatives understandably would prefer a candidate with a better track record. But Giuliani manifestly is not that candidate. While his commitment to appoint judges in the mold of Scalia, Roberts, and Alito may be enough to make him acceptable to many social conservatives, the following propositions are hard to dispute: (1) other things being roughly equal, if you’re a social conservative the more socially conservative candidate is preferable to the less socially conservative one and (2) Romney is more socially conservative than Giuliani.
UPDATE: Giuliani supporter Jennifer Rubin suggests that “perhaps to be socially conservative means something more than just fidelity to pro-life and anti-gay marriage positions.” It does. But if words have meaning, it includes such fidelity.
JOHN adds: I’m having a hard time seeing any sense in which Giuliani is socially conservative, except maybe as a crime-fighter. His personal history and advocacy of gun control certainly don’t put him in that category. I’m not being critical of Giuliani here; I’m just saying I don’t think he can depict himself as a social conservative to the extent that Romney can.
The idea of Romney as an old-fashioned good government Republican is an intriguing one. As one who came of age as a conservative in the Reagan era, I had thought the category was pretty much extinct. How much appeal might such a candidacy have today? Historically, I think the good government Republicans were designated as such in contrast to the Democrats. The Democrats were the party of labor unions, corruption and Neanderthal economic views. Today, they still are a party of unions, but they’re government workers and teachers rather than auto and steel workers. Corruption has re-emerged as a concern, but, fairly or not, the concern has been directed more at Republicans than Democrats. Do the Democrats still have obsolete views on economic issues? Hard to say. The Clinton wing, at least, can credibly claim to understand a modern economy.
So I’m not sure the world is waiting for the re-emergence of the good government Republican. Still, the pillars of modern conservatism have been tax cuts, strong defense policy and social conservatism. At the moment, neither strong defense nor social conservatism commands anything like majority support, and the popular appeal of tax cuts has dimmed as the federal tax code has gotten more and more progressive.
So maybe if Romney can re-invent good government Republicanism it could be a way out of the present climate, in which the core conservative issues, by themselves, may not command majority support.
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