With a thumping win in his party’s primary election in Texas, former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney this week wrapped up the Republican nomination and the right to challenge Barack Obama for the US Presidency in November. Can he win?
To pose that question in November 2008 — even rhetorically — would have been to invite ridicule; Barack Obama had just been elected the first ever black President of the United States; elected in a thumping win over a respected elder statesman of the Republican Party, John McCain, and his aberrant running mate, Sarah Palin.
In the aftermath of the presidency of George W. Bush, it seemed the world, to use a tired phrase, was Obama’s oyster: the younger President Bush (the better President Bush) was viewed by his contemporaries as a failure; a renegade whose military misadventures intersected with some of the worst excesses of the US military, and whose presidency ended with a sickening thud in collision with the worst economic slump since the 1930s.
I had been a staunch supporter of “Dubya” since the day in 1998 the then-Governor of Texas announced he would run for the presidency; by the time he left office ten years later he had well and truly lost me, but I have always maintained that history — with the benefit of hindsight and the fullness of time — would judge him far more favourably than his peers did.
And so it has come to pass — not four years later.
Rather than the golden era of fresh hope and aspiration the 2008 result heralded, the Obama years in America have been years of heated debate, bitter dissent, and outright division.
Reforms in education and healthcare have consumed colossal amounts of money, delivered benefit to relatively few people, and left tens of millions of Americans disillusioned; the war in Afghanistan and military operations in the Middle East generally continue apace; the US military is effectively snookered on the question of what to do about Iran and its nuclear ambitions; and US prestige abroad is diminishing as Europe increasingly pursues its own divergent path, China begins to eclipse America economically and strategically, and Russian nationalism and rearmament see that country re-emerge as a power with increasing international influence — if based only on its own self-interest.
These factors and others have created and contributed to the perception of a superpower in decline; indeed, the Obama administration is implementing plans to drastically scale back the size of both its nuclear deterrent and its conventional military forces, and presides over an economy a mere fingertip from falling back into the crevasse of recession, stagnant, barely reformed since the collapse of 2008, and in which jobs aren’t being created and wealth is disappearing.
In short, America is in almost as bad a shape today as it was when Obama assumed the presidency in January 2009; and for the first time in decades the United States’ gaze has turned inward toward a more insular (and some would say isolationist) line.
In the final analysis, the socialist Obama — and that, readers, is what he is — ought to be completely unelectable by now. The fact that he isn’t, and remains a 50-50 prospect for re-election in November, has as much to do with his opponents in the GOP as it does with any lingering remnants of the promise that was the Obama Dream.
Following its hefty defeat in 2008 the GOP turned to the right; if there’s one thing the Republican Party has reliably done every time it has lost office in the last 60 years, it has been to present a far more conservative offering in the wake of its defeat.
This time around it was the “Tea Party;” the so-called party within a party, nominally headed by Sarah Palin, whose goal was to get hardline Republican candidates endorsed and elected as widely as possible across the United States, even at the cost of cannibalising existing GOP representatives in the process.
At the mid-term elections of 2010, Tea Party candidates were moderately, but not resoundingly, successful; yet the Republican Party as a whole regained control of the US House of Representatives, reduced the Democratic majority in the Senate to a whisker, and put Obama on notice that he was in real danger of becoming the first “oncer” since President George H. W. Bush in 1992 and only the second since WWII (Democrat Jimmy Carter being the other in 1980).
What about the other guy?
Mitt Romney is nothing if not persistent: a one-time one-term Governor of Massachusetts and born into something of a political dynasty (his father was Governor of Michigan), it is his second serious run at the Oval Office, having stood four years ago, and in addition to gubernatorial office in Massachusetts, he had also stood for other elective offices previously, most notably against the late Sen Teddy Kennedy in 1994. He lost.
Romney comes to the nomination after a robust primary series; whilst its culmination has proven an anticlimax it was, for many months, bruising.
Frontrunners came and went — Hermann Cain, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, the conservatives Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum all came and faded away — yet Romney ended up the frontrunner of questionability; for whilst he did win several early contests on a simple plurality of votes, the fact Gingrich and Santorum ran second and third, taking 50-60% of the vote between them in many cases — made some of these Romney wins look shallow.
And Romney comes to the nomination with many questions hanging over him too; his record in business — proudly trumpeted as a wealth-creating, job-creating period of dynamism — is widely derided as an illusion by his detractors, who spent much of the primary season looking for holes in Romney’s story and the evidence to substantiate them, and who continue to do so.
If elected, Romney stands to be one of the wealthiest US Presidents of all time, with a net personal worth rumoured to be as high as USD500 million; this is also a point not lost on those seeking to undermine his prospects from within.
Romney is derided by more conservative elements in the GOP as too left-wing, too moderate, and not adequately committed to the core conservative values at the heart of the Republican Party’s base. Indeed, the fact he was Governor in Massachusetts, a state synonymous with the Democratic dynasty of the Kennedys, and with “north-east liberalism” generally, is an undisguised insult and a barb flung at Romney with relish.
He faces even more questions over his role and faith in the Church of Latter-Day Saints of Jesus Christ, better known simply as Mormon; again, many allegations and a lot of material found its way into the media during the primary season, yet on this account the US public — and the world at large — is largely none the wiser.
And so — at the point the nominating contests are over, and the nominating conventions loom ahead of the start of the race proper, the USA finds itself faced with a choice: the great hope who has proven an abysmal failure as President in Obama, and the undeniably clever, telegenic challenger who candidature poses significant and real questions in Romney.
Early polls are a seesaw; some point to Romney, others to Obama. Weighted against each other to eliminate error margin, their results cancel out completely to predict a dead heat.
It’s worth remembering that the best of the candidates from the Republican primaries (Gingrich) and the best candidate the GOP had who didn’t even stand (former Governor of Florida, son of President George Bush Sr and brother of President George Bush Jr, Jeb Bush) have been eliminated from contention; if Romney falls short this time and opts to stand again in 2016 Gingrich is unlikely to face off against him, but Jeb Bush could be expected to, as could defeated 2012 candidate Santorum. This is probably Romney’s first and only opportunity to face the American people in search of the presidency.
As an early tip — barring a scandal (there’s always scope for those to jump out of cupboards) I expect Mitt Romney to win against Barack Obama, albeit narrowly; should this occur, it remains to be seen what sort of President he would make.
As readers know, I would be happier and far more comfortable endorsing Gingrich; in the circumstances, I am not going to endorse either candidate in the coming US election.
In the absence of evidence to the contrary, this election shapes as the most mediocre presidential contest since Gerald Ford squared off against Carter in 1976.
I will say, however, that the USA desperately needs to rid itself of the socialist yoke Obama has placed around its neck; what sort of improvement — if any — Romney might represent is for him to now show.
This is a story we will continue to revisit as it unfolds in the coming six months; it is a contest of real importance to the USA at a difficult and perhaps existential crossroads in its history, and it has spillover consequences — good and/or bad — for many, many other countries around the world, and not least here in Australia.