I Voted For…….

…..Mitt Romney. It was a close call – I didn’t make up my mind until after getting in the car to head down to my polling place – but ultimately, one consideration outweighed the others: I want this primary over. I want conservatives and Republicans to stop fighting amongst themselves and start focusing on Barack Obama. The wounds from this fight run too deep, and what advantages Rick Santorum might have over Romney as the nominee aren’t, in my view, drastic enough to justify prolonging the struggle any longer. Defeating Obama is going to be tough enough; let’s cut the infighting and get to work on it.
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Mitt or Rick?

We’re now less than a week away from the Wisconsin Republican primary, and I’m still undecided. As it stands, this is more or less my current thought process: 
  • Romney & Santorum will probably be roughly equal on defense, abortion, taxes, marriage, judges, and immigration.
  • Romney will probably be somewhat better on spending/entitlements, though whether he’ll be aggressive enough remains questionable.
  • Santorum is right that he’d campaign much more effectively against ObamaCare (though I trust both to repeal it). ObamaCare and RomneyCare can be sufficiently distinguished to neutralize the issue for Mitt, but Romney himself needs to do it – and so far, he hasn’t.
  • Both candidates are gaffe-prone & have trouble refuting false narratives, though I’m unsure which will be a bigger liability: “Santorum as theocrat” or “Romney as corporate fatcat.” 
  • I fear Romney’s over-sensitivity to polls, but I also worry about Santorum’s “compassionate conservative” leanings.
I’m leaning towards Romney, but the great speech Santorum gave right here in Fond du Lac over the weekend – in which he showed undeniable passion and command of the issues, and made a strong case against Romney’s ability to campaign against ObamaCare – have stuck with me. Maybe in the next few days, one of them will do something magnificent – or idiotic – enough to make the choice clearer.

Hopefully the former. But I’ll take the latter at this point, too.

Thomas Sowell’s Tortured Logic on the Primary

Last week, Thomas Sowell issued another plea for conservatives to rally around Newt Gingrich. It was…questionable.
Rick Santorum has possibilities, but can he survive the media’s constant attempts to paint him as some kind of religious nut who would use the government to impose his views on others? And, if he can, will he also be able to go toe-to-toe with Obama in debates?

I would not bet the rent money on it. And what is at stake is far bigger than the rent money.
I have similar reservations about Santorum enabling the media to erect a false narrative about him that he won’t be able to overcome, but I think the debates have also shown that his policy chops and passion are more than adequate to mop the stage with Obama.
Mitt Romney is the kind of candidate that the Republican establishment has always looked for, a moderate who can appeal to independents. It doesn’t matter how many such candidates have turned out to be disasters on election night, going all the way back to Thomas E. Dewey in 1948.

Nor does it matter that the Republicans’ most successful candidate of the 20th century — Ronald Reagan, with two consecutive landslide victories at the polls — was nobody’s idea of a mushy moderate.

He stood for something. And he could explain what he stood for. These may sound like modest achievements, but they are very rare, especially among Republicans.
Yes, Reagan stood for something. Yes, there are real doubts about what Romney stands for. But it’s simply not true that Romney’s running as a moderate. He’s taken firm conservative stances on everything from taxes and entitlement reform to abortion and gay marriage to the border and Iran. While he might not make good on those promises once in office, the fact remains that he’s presenting as bold and uncompromising a contrast to Obama as any of the others. (And shouldn’t the “establishment”-baiting be beneath you, Mr. Sowell?)
Newt Gingrich is the only candidate still in the field who can clearly take on Barack Obama in one-on-one debate and cut through the Obama rhetoric and mystique with hard facts and plain logic.
True, Gingrich is easily the best debater in the field, and when he’s on his game, he can deliver almost Reaganesque levels of inspiration in his speeches. But there’s more to campaigning – and leading – than being good with words. Sowell seems to be betting that the general-election debates will be far more decisive than they’re actually likely to be.
Nor is this just a matter of having a gift of gab. Gingrich has a far deeper grasp of both the policies and the politics than the other Republican candidates.
Would that be the deep understanding of conservative politics that led Newt to back federal individual health insurance mandates, bailouts, federal stem-cell research funding, ethanol subsidies, “green conservatism,” Dede Scozzafava, amnesty for illegal immigrants, the creation and expansion of the Department of Education, the Bush prescription drug expansion, and the 1987 Pro-Fairness Doctrine, or to oppose Paul Ryan’s entitlement reform plan, or to flirt with Nancy Pelosi, Al Gore, John Kerry, Al Sharpton, and Arne Duncan?
Does Gingrich have political “baggage”? More than you could carry on a commercial airliner.

Charges of opportunism have been among the most serious raised against the former Speaker of the House. But being President of the United States is the opportunity of a lifetime. If that doesn’t sober a man up, it is hard to imagine what would.
This is the line that was so maddening I had to write this post. It’s not even that Sowell’s hope of Gingrich sobering up is speculative; it’s that we don’t have to speculate on this point. Gingrich has been running for that opportunity of a lifetime, and it hasn’t sobered him up at all. Despite virtually all of the conservative movement fiercely condemning Gingrich’s dishonest attacks on Bain Capital, the man still has so little discipline that he couldn’t resist peppering his speech last night with derisive references to Wall Street. It hasn’t given him enough self-control to resist smearing Romney as a heartless bastard who starves Holocaust survivors – all the while lamenting how much he wishes he could stay positive. But I guess we’re supposed to just have faith that actually becoming president would sober Newt up, even though neither running for president nor being Speaker of the House seemed to do the trick.

Thomas Sowell is an excellent economist, and I doubt he would have much patience if one of his students used such shaky, evidence-free analysis in an economic paper. So why is it good enough for politics?

Rick Santorum Is Losing Me

In January, I enthusiastically endorsed Rick Santorum for President, having been convinced that he finally demonstrated the political acumen to complement his philosophical integrity. For a while, Santorum’s performance seemed to affirm my decision—he effortlessly assumed the role of adult in the room during the Florida CNN debate, and his strength in the polls remains far stronger than most would have predicted just a few months ago.

Unfortunately, a handful of incidents over the past two weeks have forced me to reconsider. First came his lackluster performance in the Arizona CNN debate, during which he rationalized his support of No Child Left Behind thusly:
I have to admit, I voted for that, it was against the principles I believed in, but you know, when you’re part of the team, sometimes you take one for the team, for the leader, and I made a mistake. You know, politics is a team sport, folks, and sometimes you’ve got to rally together and do something, and in this case I thought testing and finding out how bad the problem was wasn’t a bad idea. 
Voting against your own principles because your team leader wanted you to? That’s not only about as un-Tea Party as you can get, it also stands in stark contrast to Santorum’s own one-word description of his candidacy that very night: “courage.”

Next, Santorum came under fire for saying that John F. Kennedy’s famous Address to Protestant Ministers made him want to “throw up”:
I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.  The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country. This is the First Amendment.  The First Amendment says the free exercise of religion.  That means bringing everybody, people of faith and no faith, into the public square.  Kennedy for the first time articulated the vision saying, no, “faith is not allowed in the public square.  I will keep it separate.” Go on and read the speech “I will have nothing to do with faith.  I won’t consult with people of faith.”  It was an absolutist doctrine that was foreign at the time of 1960.
Don’t get me wrong; I understand as well as anyone the truth and importance of Santorum’s underlying point, that the Left has twisted the Establishment Clause to obscure and erase America’s Judeo-Christian foundations. We need a candidate and a president who will make that case to the American people. But we don’t need a candidate who makes it so easy for the Left to caricature that case. While some of JFK’s rhetoric could be interpreted as Santorum describes it, it’s hardly an obvious or indisputable inference—I suspect most Americans would read it as simply meaning he wouldn’t discriminate against Protestants or take his marching orders from the Vatican. What’s more, how much mileage do you think the Democrats will get out of ads which present Santorum as a wild-eyed theocrat who “wants to throw up” when he hears passages like:
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
Or:
I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end; where all men and all churches are treated as equal; where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice; where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind; and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.
And most recently, he and Mitt Romney have been fighting over a robocall which asks Democrats to vote for Santorum in the Michigan primary. While Romney’s reaction is overblown and hypocritical, the fact remains that it contradicts Santorum’s own stated disdain for Democrats influencing Republican primaries, and its message was worse:
Romney supported the bailouts for his Wall Street billionaire buddies, but opposed the auto bailouts. That was a slap in the face to every Michigan worker, and we’re not gonna let Romney get away with it.
Not only is Santorum resorting to the very same class warfare he so admirably resisted not so long ago, but it raises the question: how can it be a “slap in the face” for Romney to oppose the auto bailout, but not for Santorum himself to do so? Attempting to give voters a false impression that you supported something you actually oppose isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring. (And for what it’s worth, one need not support either bailout to recognize substantive differences between them.)  

I’m not saying I won’t still vote for Rick Santorum in the Wisconsin primary. Many of his biggest assets—his unquestionable sincerity on social issues, his foreign policy expertise, and his relative purity on the crucial issue of government-run healthcare—remain unshakeable. Mitt Romney’s shortcomings (the latest example being this clumsy attempt to neutralize his wealth as a campaign issue) remain substantial. But I am saying I’m no longer certain he’s a stronger general election candidate than Romney, and so I must revert from identifying as a Santorum supporter to being undecided between Santorum and Romney.

Both men are far superior to Newt Gingrich (and Ron Paul, whose name shouldn’t even be spoken in the same breath as Gingrich’s). Both men have checkered pasts but are running on strong, unambiguous full-spectrum conservative platforms. Both men have denigrated themselves with petty, misleading infighting. Both men have displayed the capacity to change their tune for political expediency. Both men have shown promise in their ability to make the case against Barack Obama, but both men have also proven themselves to be disturbingly gaffe-prone.

I like and admire Rick Santorum. But I’m simply no longer confident enough in him to guarantee that he’ll get my primary vote. He and Mitt Romney have between now and April 3 to convince me they can get their act together and run a serious, focused, and reasonably caricature-proof campaign. May the best man win.

New at Live Action – How Low Can You Go? Salon Writer Accuses Rick Santorum of Wanting Her Daughter Dead

My latest Live Action post:
Once again proving how hated those who stand for life are in some corners of society, Sarah Fister Gale at Salon explains how Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum “would have killed my daughter.”
She explains how a prenatal test of her unborn baby’s amniotic fluid revealed that she had Rh negative disease, which would have been fatal to her if left undiscovered. The prenatal testing saved the child’s life by enabling Gale’s doctor to track her development, ensure that she was delivered at the safest time, given a full blood transfusion, and monitored to make certain the disease was eliminated. Thankfully, little Ella is alive and well today.
What does this have to do with Rick Santorum, though?

If Rick Santorum had his way, I wouldn’t have been able to get that test, and she most likely would have died. Because according to him, tests that give parents vital information about the health of their unborn children are morally wrong. Though he has no medical training, and no business commenting on the medical decisions that women and their doctors make, he argues that such tests shouldn’t be provided, or that employers at least should be allowed to opt out of paying for them on “moral grounds.”

Santorum’s position is that “People have the right to do it,” but not “to have the government force people to provide it free” because prenatal testing often leads to abortion. He noted that he was speaking from experience: “I have a child that has Trisomy 18. Almost 100 percent of Trisomy 18 children are encouraged to be aborted.” The facts support Santorum—92% of positive Down syndrome diagnoses, for instance, result in abortion.
Read the rest at Live Action.

Rick Santorum: Fiscal Conservative

Among conservatives, the knock on Rick Santorum is that his record on spending doesn’t live up to his record on social issues or foreign policy – that he’s a “pro-life statist,” as Erick Erickson characteristically put it back when he was carrying water for Rick Perry. But a new Weekly Standard piece takes a closer look, and found that Santorum actually had one of the most fiscally conservative voting records during his time in the Senate, despite representing a more liberal state than many of his Republican colleagues:
NTU’s [National Taxpayers Union] scoring paints a radically different picture of Santorum’s 12-year tenure in the Senate (1995 through 2006) than one would glean from the rhetoric of the Romney campaign.  Fifty senators served throughout Santorum’s two terms:  25 Republicans, 24 Democrats, and 1 Republican/Independent.  On a 4-point scale (awarding 4 for an A, 3.3 for a B+, 3 for a B, 2.7 for a B-, etc.), those 50 senators’ collective grade point average (GPA) across the 12 years was 1.69 — which amounts to a C-.  Meanwhile, Santorum’s GPA was 3.66 — or an A-.  Santorum’s GPA placed him in the top 10 percent of senators, as he ranked 5th out of 50. 

Across the 12 years in question, only 6 of the 50 senators got A’s in more than half the years.  Santorum was one of them.  He was also one of only 7 senators who never got less than a B.  (Jim Talent served only during Santorum’s final four years, but he always got less than a B, earning a B- every year and a GPA of 2.7.)  Moreover, while much of the Republican party lost its fiscal footing after George W. Bush took office — although it would be erroneous to say that the Republicans were nearly as profligate as the Democrats — Santorum was the only senator who got A’s in every year of Bush’s first term.  None of the other 49 senators could match Santorum’s 4.0 GPA over that span.
The Standard article compares and averages a lot of grades, but doesn’t go into a lot of detail about what Santorum voted on. For that, check out the Club for Growth’s Presidential White Paper on him. Their conclusion: while Santorum backed a number of bad policies, his overall economic record was “above average.”

In Defense of National Review Against the Right’s Daily Kos

We’re currently witnessing the death throes of Rick Perry’s campaign. He finished fifth in Iowa, sixth in New Hampshire, and is currently polling fifth in South Carolina, where his fans have placed their hope for a turnaround. He’s in sixth in Florida, and fifth place nationally.

In a final, desperate search for something that can turn his fortunes around, Perry has decided to join Newt Gingrich’s leftist attack on Mitt Romney’s time at Bain Capital. It backfired. Badly.

Perry and Gingrich’s demagoguery has been fiercely condemned by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Glenn Beck, Jim DeMint, the American Spectator, National Review, Reason, the Weekly Standard, Human Events, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Examiner, the Washington Times, Commentary, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Michelle Malkin, Charles Krauthammer, Power Line’s John Hindraker, Ace of Spades, American Enterprise Institute, the Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, ex-Perry financial supporter Barry Wynn, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and PJ Media head Roger Simon, who very candidly apologized for having ever backed Perry, calling him “less qualified, it turns out, to be president than my dead grandmother.”

In other words, Rick Perry (and Newt Gingrich) has offended just about every corner of the Right—traditional and libertarian, moderate and hardcore, establishment and grassroots, commentator and activist, blogosphere and radio, Mitt fans, competitors, and haters alike.

Everyone, that is, except for RedState. Erick Erickson first said he didn’t mind the attacks (with Perry’s version “a bit more carefully nuanced” than Newt’s), then revised his argument to, yeah, but why did Romney support TARP? (Maybe for the same reason Perry did too, Erick?), and later wrote a post conceding the attack “has gotten out of hand”—while falsely claiming Bain got government bailouts and lying about what Perry’s critics were saying: “the sudden decision that it is verboten to level any attack at Romney because of Bain […] corporations should not be immune from criticism.”

The other front-pagers have rationalized the attack, mildly criticized it amidst teeth-gnashing about Romney’s general awfulness, and complained that it was distracting us from bashing Romney on healthcare. The strategy is simple: maintain the single-minded focus on taking down Romney at all costs, while discussing Perry as little as possible, refusing to give a moment’s consideration as to how Perry’s own words just might undermine RedState’s increasingly-hysterical insistence of Perry’s unique conservative authenticity. 

The shameless Perry-whoring is pathetic enough, but recently the site jumped the shark past “pathetic” straight to “obscene” with Thomas Crown’s attack on National Review. After assuring us what a good friend he is to everyone at NR, he tells the magazine “you have lost your way” for no discernible sin other than preferring Romney to Perry:

You have alienated yourself from your readership and your movement […] You have forgotten that one of the founding creeds of the modern conservative movement is A Choice, Not An Echo […] You are supposed to be a beacon of what is best in us, not a reminder that some days, you just can’t win […] It’s a shame, and we’re all poorer for it. We’ll miss you, and hope you come back to us some day.

Nearly 2,000 words, and yet Crown can’t squeeze in the most important part of any argument: the facts to substantiate his thesis. All he has is a handful of lazy mischaracterizations of both the candidates and NR’sWinnowing the Field” editorial:

Consider that in one fell swoop the publication managed to dismiss the longest-serving governor in the nation, with a record of conservative governance unmatched by any governor current or recent past [if you ignore the liberal parts of his governorship and his flip-flop record…oh, and how many of those Texas jobs went to illegals?], linking him unsubtly to a crank known for conspiracy theories and Ron Paul [nowhere in NR’s passage on Perry & Paul do the even remotely link the two, though since Crown raises the subject, Perry has praised Paul before]; praise Mitt Romney, who while apparently a model conservative (the sort who helps get abortion funding in state-run mandatory health insurance) [not true] has failed to seal the deal with conservatives for some unknowable reason; praise Jon Huntsman, whose entire campaign was a John Weaver special from tip to tail (this is not a compliment) [fair enough, but hypocritical: RedState’s had plenty of praise for Huntsman, too]; and praise Rick Santorum, one of the greatest (if dimmest) champions the pro-life movement has had, and who was so conservative he went to war for massive increases in federal spending almost every day, [that’s exaggerating a blemish on an otherwise-excellent conservative record] and whose greatest knock is not his loss to an anodyne nobody by a margin that made even the rest of 2006 look like a joke [also oversimplifying], but rather a lack of executive experience [Fair enough, but still hardly indicative of any problem at NR].

Crown’s fantasy of Perry support being some sort of conservative litmus test doesn’t hold up, and neither does the idea that National Review has sold out to Romney (a smear that RedState has peddled before). In fact, since Erick Erickson and Thomas Crown are so interested in which publications have put personality above principle, let’s do a little comparison:  

At National Review, I can read Ramesh Ponnuru endorse Mitt Romney and Kathryn Lopez vouch for his pro-life sincerity, but I can also read Michael Walsh argue he’s “plainly not” the “candidate the hour calls for” and Katrina Trinko report on jobs lost due to Romneycare. I can read the Editors disqualify Newt Gingrich from consideration, but I can also read Thomas Sowell endorse Gingrich (twice) and Jonah Goldberg credit him as “the only candidate to actually move government rightward.” I can read Shannen Coffin criticize Rick Perry’s Gardasil mandate, but I can also read Henry Miller and John Graham defend it, as well as Christian Schnieder defend Perry on in-state tuition for illegals. I can read Quin Hillyer defend Rick Santorum’s small-government credentials, but I can also read Michael Tanner and Jonathan Adler blast his “big government conservatism.”

Can I read substantive defenses of Mitt Romney, or substantive criticisms of Rick Perry, at RedState? Only from the occasional diarist who hasn’t been driven away by the thought police. From Erickson or the team writers? Don’t count on it. As John Scotus documents, Erickson’s been shilling for Perry since Day 1. The RedState narrative is that Perry’s the only candidate who “authentically represents smaller government,” “by far, the greatest alpha male conservative in a generation,” and supporting anyone else would be settling. The dark side of Perry’s record was almost completely ignored. Romney, however, is routinely characterized as the worst thing to happen to the GOP since John Wilkes Booth. Why, nominating him would kill conservatism! Perry critics and Romney sympathizers are routinely harassed. Erickson repeated Perry’s dishonest attacks on Romney over education and imposing Romneycare nationally, and even calls Romney a bad Mormon

National Review has an editorial leaning toward Romney; RedState toward Perry. There’s no shame in either, but while the former publication is a place where dissent thrives and every candidate is given equal fairness and scrutiny, the latter has dedicated itself fully to a biased image of their guy and their designated anti-Perry.

And yet, Thomas Crown has the nerve to lecture National Review about being unfair to candidates? RedState is the only major conservative venue not disgusted with Perry’s “vulture capitalism” smears, and yet National Review is the one somehow out of step with conservatism?

Which publication lost its way again?

We shouldn’t be surprised that the website that smeared Michelle Malkin for criticizing Rick Perry would conduct itself so dishonorably throughout this campaign. Until Eagle Publishing realizes how far one of their publications has fallen and replaces Erickson Erickson with someone committed to cleaning it up, whatever use RedState once was to the conservative movement will continue to be outweighed by the stench Erickson has allowed to permeate it.

In the meantime, I’m sticking with National Review.