I haven’t written much of anything about the GOP primary contest, despite the fact I have been following it closely, in part because I found myself so incredibly dissatisfied with all the candidates. However, as the field narrows and appears to be actually competitive, and various people I respect line up behind candidates, it seemed like it was time to come out of the closet as something I’m not very enthusiastic about being: a Romney supporter.
This is not because I’m particularly fond of Romney. I don’t trust him a great deal, I’m not clear how solid any of his principles are other than his conviction that he should be president, and I don’t find him particularly inspiring. As various candidates have had their five minutes of popularity for the achievement of not being Romney, I kept hoping that one of them would manage to pull ahead and show some stature. I was particularly hopeful about Rick Perry, but he just didn’t seem able to run a campaign.
So why support Romney?
I’ll start with the positive. While I’m not enthusiastic about Romney, I think that most of what the GOP needs in order to oust Obama this year is simply a credible alternative who doesn’t scare people too much. Given how bad the economy is and how unpopular some elements of his policy have been, “not Obama” can be a solidly popular candidate by that virtue alone. In this regard, I think Romney’s blandness may actually be an asset — especially as it’s combined with very solid verbal abilities which should be able to stack up well against Obama on stage. Romney is also a company man. He is a consultant through and through, and since right now I actually trust the party more than I trust any of the candidates, I actually prefer the fact that Romney is likely to be guided fairly efficiently by the party establishment and the establishment advisers. I’d rather have a solid candidate, able to guide by his own vision, but lacking that I’d at least like to have an able executive willing to be guided by the right advisers.
That’s about as positive as my feelings get. Now for the negative approach. There are at most four candidates at this point: Romney, Gingrich, Santorum and Ron Paul. Ron Paul I consider wrong pretty much from beginning to end. Santorum actually strikes me as a strongly principled social conservative, and in some ways I do like him, but I just don’t see him as having the executive presence to lead the nation or to succeed against Obama onstage. Maybe in a fairer world he would be a good candidate, but in the world we’re in I just don’t think he’d stand a chance of winning. I have some fond memories around Gingrich and the Contract With America, since that’s a period when I was first enthusiastically tracking politics as a teenager. However, Gingrich himself flamed out badly and hurt the Republican party in the ’90s. His personal life shows him as being even less trustworthy. He’s got strong combative instincts, and at times it’s fun to imagine him going head to head with Obama on stage, but his combative instincts also apply to opening fire on his own foot. Often. With Gingrich as the nominee, the GOP would be “living in interesting times” in the very worst sense of that ancient curse. And even if he could win, I wouldn’t trust Gingrich any more as president of the US than the last GOP president to have come back from utter political defeat and exile: Richard M. Nixon.
It frustrates me no end that there aren’t better candidates out there in a year in which Obama should be an easy target, and even at this late date if someone better came along than Romney I’d be happy to switch to someone better, but in the current state of the race Romney seems to me like the best one.