Mitt Romney as a Vessel for Restoring the Republican Party to Power

“All we have to do is replace Obama,” proclaimed GOP power broker Grover Norquist at this year’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C. “We are not auditioning for fearless leader.” Sufficiently qualified for the job, he argued, is any man with the capacity to “handle a pen” and thus sign bills sent by Congress. “His job is to be captain of the team,” Norquist said of the party’s as-yet-undetermined nominee.

And so with this logic in mind, Mitt Romney largely evaded sustained criticism from his rivals during the 2012 GOP presidential primary. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty coined the term “ObomneyCare,” then dropped out of the race a few weeks later, joining as a top Romney adviser; “This nation can’t afford a status quo president,” warned former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman of Romney, just nine days before he dropped out and endorsed Romney. Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry painted a grim portrait of Romney’s tenure as a private equity maven, during which he allegedly shuttered American factories and laid off workers. But after the dust settled, both men came onboard with “the team.” (Ron Paul, as always, was a lone exception.)

Mitt Romney has long made clear that his campaign should be regarded essentially as a vessel for restoring the Republican Party to power. His slate of advisers across all subject areas indicates that he values not ideological cohesion, but rather the opportunity to reinstate GOP policy-making personnel. And so unlike the previous GOP nominee, John McCain, and unlike some of his rivals for the nomination this year — including Rick Santorum, Huntsman, and (of course) Ron Paul — Romney makes a point to challenge virtually none of his party’s orthodoxies.

However, Romney occasionally does indulge some of the party’s worst impulses. In August 2010, spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom issued a statement announcing the governor’s condemnation of the “Ground Zero Mosque,” highlighting “the potential for extremists to use the mosque for global recruiting and propaganda,” which compelled a “rejection of this site.” Similarly, Romney has denounced Obama’s vision of government as profoundly “foreign,” and he regularly insinuates that the president is insufficiently reverential of the military.

It seems that not even Mitt Romney’s campaign staff have got a clear understanding of what the man believes. A look at his biography reveals a disinterest in ideology and/or principle. His main pursuit has been accruing power to his various enterprises: his firm as head of Bain Capital, his state as governor of Massachusetts, his Church as Boston stake president, and now his presidential campaign and party.

Those in the GOP who believe Romney a desirable standard-bearer should perhaps consider whether they wish for their party to be further associated with capricious warmaking and knee-jerk, hostile bellicosity toward other nations. In proclaiming at this week’s debate that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran must be tried in “World Court,” and that the sectarian conflict in Syria represents a “good opportunity” to exert American influence, Romney exhibits a brash style. In 2000, George W. Bush famously called for a more “humble” foreign policy.

Because the more nationalistic elements of the populace love to hear platitudes about “restoring America’s Leadership” and so forth, Romney’s strategy has been to propound anti-Obama talking points rather than level any kind of substantive critique. It is simply false, as Romney repeatedly alleges, that the current commander-in-chief has gone around the world on an “Apology Tour.” If one wants to object to the president’s diplomatic style, by all means — but the “Apology Tour” accusation is factually inaccurate. And, frankly, juvenile. Is this really the best criticism the Republican party nominee can come up with?

Romney’s over-reliance on such memes is further evidence that he lacks much meaningful knowledge of or interest in foreign policy. As crisis unfolds across the Middle East and other challenges inevitably arise across the world, it is just about impossible to predict how Romney might handle a given high-risk situation. For all his major problems on foreign policy, Obama’s rhetoric from the 2008 campaign basically matches up with what he’s carried out (or endeavored to carry out) as president. Conversely, Romney is so inconsistent that there is almost no way to imagine how he’d behave in office.

The same was true, it could be argued, of Bush in 2000. The governor was not well-versed on foreign policy, and therefore became malleable to advisers like Elliott Abrams, John Bolton, Cofer Black, Tommy Franks, and others — all of whom have been recruited to the current Romney campaign. Liz Cheney also takes part in weekly foreign policy conference calls.

An Obama victory means that these neoconservative figures, who helped orchestrate George W. Bush’s preemptive attack on Iraq, will be kept out of office. A Romney victory could well mean they are back in charge.

About michaeltracey

Journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Follow me on Twitter at @mtracey.

  • KeithCollyer

    not being an American, I didn’t bother with the debates, but what “World Court” is he referring to? Is it the International Criminal Court that the US refuses to recognize on the grounds that it would be guilty as hell for Guantanamo and extraordinary rendition?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    It seems that not even Mitt Romney’s campaign staff have got a clear understanding of what the man believes.

    Romney believes he should be president. That’s about it.

  • Frank Mitchell

    At the risk of indulging in rose-colored nostalgia, I remember when politicians won or lost based on ideals, policies, even irrational attitudes they stood for.  Over time the Democrats welcomed so many in their “big tent” that they stood for very little.  Clinton’s presidency signified the Democrats’ movement beyond the center and toward conservative principles.  Obama is at most a half-step to the left of his predecessor; Guantanamo is still in operation, health care reform morphed into a few tiny adjustments, and war in Afghanistan continues under other names.

    Now the Republicans, by putting forth Romney as little more than a figurehead, have emptied the presidential election of all meaning.  It’s little more than Our Side / Their Side, with no more meaning than rival sports teams.  Vote Blue Team for four years of the same thing, or vote Red Team for almost the same thing with the old and somewhat scary team of puppet-masters.  The policies of both parties are the same, only the names change; who do you believe will screw up less?  (Obama, probably, but still.)

    Don’t you wish major American political parties had clear labels?  Maybe a Democratic-Republican Party, a Christian Brotherhood, and a Socialist Coalition?

  • Neil Rickert

    Limbaugh thought that Romney was the equivalent of Elmer Fudd (which was good enough for Limbaugh).

    ‘Elmer Fudd’ loses ground to President Obama in Ohio and nation, polls show

  • dcl3500

    As I have stated so many other places, Romney, the Kochs, Adelson, et al are simply trying to perform an LBO of the United States of America.  They have no interest in her people, her institutions, beyond the fact that they will use them and abuse them to further enrich themselves and their cronies.  

    At least the President we have right now, while perhaps not the greatest, but far from the worst, cares about the people and America and her welfare and well-being.

    OBAMA/BIDEN 2012

  • Sven2547

    The very same.  Our politicians only acknowledge it when convenient.  It’s wildly hypocritical.

  • David Kopp

    I agree. That still doesn’t change the fact that Obama is easily the lesser of two evils.

    If we want meaningful change, we’ve gotta start with Congress. Start getting some more parties in there that actually represent us.

  • girlgenius

    “An Obama victory means that these neoconservative figures, who helped orchestrate George W. Bush’s preemptive attack on Iraq, will be kept out of office. A Romney victory could well mean they are back in charge.”
    MichaelT, this statement might be true only in the most literal sense if it weren’t for the fact that Democrats were OK with attacking Iraq as well. 

    And if you’re implying that an Obama victory means all that’s right in the world will finally come to pass while a Romney victory means Evil walks the Earth unhindered, then you are so very sadly wrong. 

  • girlgenius

    At this point in US history, there is no longer the “lesser” of two evils. Both major options are actively competing for the title of Greater Evil.

    The only way now to vote for a lesser evil is to force another option. Or don’t vote at all.

  • girlgenius

    You’re right — Obama’s not the greatest president we’ve ever had. 

    But he is indeed the worst. Blame Bush, if you want, for the economy & the wars, but no other president before Obama assumed the “right” to kill American citizens abroad or maintain a “kill list” of candidates for assassination. Obama’s continuous expansion of executive power leads one to suspect he’d rather be called the “Dear Leader of America” rather than the President.

  • Deven Kale

    For someone who calls themself girlgenius, your words would suggest otherwise.

    Do you honestly think if a Republican had been in that position, or anybody else for that matter, that they wouldn’t do exactly the same thing that Obama has? The only reason that Obama’s been the only one to do those things is because he’s the only one who’s had the ability to do so.

    I give him credit for at least admitting to it, whereas if a republican had been in office I have no doubts they would still be denying they even had the ability.

  • dcl3500

    I would respond by pointing out just where you are wrong with virtually everything you said, but sadly, you are obviously too damned stupid to be worth the time.

  • Michael Tracey

    “MichaelT, this statement might be true only in the most literal sense if
    it weren’t for the fact that Democrats were OK with attacking Iraq as

    Many Democrats were OK with attacking Iraq, but many prominent Democrats also opposed that war, including Barack Obama. The GOP, aside from a few scant exceptions like Ron Paul, Walter Jones, and Lincoln Chafee, were unanimously behind the invasion of Iraq. Mitt Romney continues to support it, and in fact condemned the partial U.S. withdrawal as a “tragedy.”

    “And if you’re implying that an Obama victory means all that’s right
    in the world will finally come to pass while a Romney victory means Evil
    walks the Earth unhindered, then you are so very sadly wrong.”

    I’m not implying anything of the sort.

  • Coyotenose

    So have more than two or three Republicans figured out yet that Norquist’s pledges demand that the signees intentionally violate their oaths of office?

    And that really sucks about Huntsman. I didn’t know he ended up endorsing Romney. I’d have actually considered voting for him (probably not gone through with it, but a Republican candidate worth the time of day is a notable rarity.)

  • Birdie1986

    “His main pursuit has been accruing power to his various enterprises” – this hits the nail on the head.  He wants to be President.  He doesn’t care what that really should mean (that he wants to serve the American people).  He just wants to add it to his collection of achievements.  That’s what I think of every time he says anything on the campaign trail.

  • Dfg52

    Thank you for pointing out another non-atheism related reason to vote for Obama.  I always get so confused as to whether or not there are non-atheist reasons not to vote for Romney.  Thankfully, this atheism blog continues to be the go-to source on non-atheist related reasons to hate Romney.

  • Baal

     So you’re an operative for the republicans?  Really, if you’re not then you should consider your media diet.  This comment is talking points from the Romney campaign.

    Obama is terrible on privacy and exec power – cf endless posts by glen greenwald for details.  He’s otherwise been hamstrung by (D) who think Politico (go read it, it’s bizzaro land even when so called lefties are writing) nails it everytime.  Despite all that, he’s moved in the right direction several times and done a good job on specific cases like the auto manufacturer bail out.

    Lastly, Do you really want the neocons (who are currently salivating at the thought of a war with Syria or Iran or both) back in the White House and 2-3 more Scalia’s on the SCT?  <–any remotely sane person regardless of left/right political views who wants the country to even remotely operate should be dwelling deeply in a pit of fear over that prospect.

  • Foster

     No, I don’t believe a Republican would assassinate an American citizen without any judicial proceedings whatsoever, as the President has done.  It was an unprecedented action that sets a terrible precedent, as Ron Paul and a few other patriots had the wisdom to point out at the time.  To add to what gg said, Obama’s administration’s complete negligence in the care of the Benghazi personnel, who repeatedly called for reinforcement and were repeatedly denied for hours, combined with the fact that no one has been publicly reprimanded in this utter screw-up, makes it clear that Obama should not be President: the buck stops with him.  Romney is not a rose, but he is not this dung hill either.