Dear Mitt Romney skeptics, and especially my fellow evangelicals,
Do you remember how it felt when the economy began to implode in those anxious, waning months of 2008? We were coming down to the wire in the election contest, and the candidates we had to choose between were Barack Obama and John McCain. Given the choices, of course, I supported McCain. I still think he would have made a far better President than Obama has proven to be.
But as the very foundations of the American economy were shaking and falling away beneath our feet, and we faced the very real possibility of a Second Great Depression, how desperately I wished that Mitt Romney had emerged from the primary as the champion of the GOP. The presiding President and his party took the heat for the financial crisis, and McCain worsened the situation when his actions and statements inspired no confidence in his stability and expertise on economic matters. The election turned in Obama’s favor when he gave the impression of solidity and strength in the economic crisis.
Romney, however, had something Obama couldn’t even begin to claim: a brilliantly successful career in the private sector, and a world of experience specifically in the financial sector, where our most intractable problems lay. Between McCain and Romney, Romney was touted by the conservative commentariat as the conservative option, and I remember feeling as though the liberal media, independents and even some Democrats who were able to vote in primaries had shoehorned John McCain onto the GOP ticket. If Romney had been at the top of the ticket instead, I still believe we would have avoided the lamentable Obama Presidency; compared to a business titan, Obama would have looked like the inexperienced pretender that he was, and he could not have stood up to Romney’s economic expertise in the debates.
Well, we’re still in the midst of an incredible mess as a country. Our financial house is in shambles. Tax reform, regulatory reform, streamlining government, changes to our energy and immigration policies, will all help. But the character of the American people, the moral substructure that provides the necessary, nurturing environment for our democratic free market, has also disintegrated. Our problem is not merely political; it is also cultural. We need to rediscover the virtues of the free market, and we also need to rediscover the economic virtues. That is, on the one hand, we need a President who understands how companies grow and flourish, who understands how the economy works and what provides the predictability and clarity and the space for innovation that the market demands; and on the other hand, we need someone whose personal integrity and whose socio-political principles will strengthen the family, enrich the workforce, and restore our collective commitment to responsibility and initiative, stewardship and thrift, diligence and creativity.
Yesterday I wrote a response to some common misconceptions about Romney and his candidacy. Next week, I’ll address at greater length some other objections to Romney in greater detail. Please subscribe or follow on Facebook or Twitter. I cannot, in this one letter, get too far into the weeds, parse everything Romney has said on the environment, or etc. The purpose of this letter is simply to set forth, in broad outlines, why I think Romney’s the right guy for America. The Presidency is a position of enormously important economic, global and moral leadership. In all three of those areas, I firmly believe that Mitt Romney is the leader we need. He also, not coincidentally, stands the best chance of defeating Barack Obama — and if there’s one thing conservatives agree upon right now, it’s the profound importance of installing new leadership. As the country staggers toward decline, we need someone who can pick us up, rally the American people behind a positive and hopeful vision, and deploy all of his intelligence and experience and skill to move us toward a better future.
Mitt Romney Part 1: Economic and Global Leadership
Those who know him personally attest, without exception, that Romney is an extraordinarily intelligent, boundlessly competent, and thoroughly hard-working man. He built a towering reputation in the business world, accomplished a near-miraculous turnaround of the Salt Lake City Olympics (which was mired in scandal and red ink and on the verge of collapsing), and took an extremely liberal state (Massachusetts) that was deeply in debt and restored it to fiscal health and a budget surplus in the course of four years.
In the business world, Romney specialized in turning around failing companies, and he did so with great success. Sometimes, yes, that means eliminating jobs — but you eliminate jobs in order to avoid eliminating entire companies and all the jobs they provide. You make companies more profitable, more competitive, and thus more sustainable. You eliminate jobs now so that you can keep paying the salaries of those who remain, and ideally add more jobs again later. In other words, sometimes the most pro-jobs thing you can do is cut a job that allows a company to survive. Romney’s experience in executive management, and in the financial and investment sector, are precisely what we need right now, when we are faced with enormous managerial challenges in reforming the government and its entitlement programs and enormous economic challenges in rebuilding a thriving private sector and restoring the millions of new jobs it should be producing each year.
36 economists, recently asked to rate Obama’s performance on the economy, rated him mostly “poor” and “fair.” Asked which of the Republican candidates would be best, two-thirds chose Romney, one chose Gingrich, and the others gave no response. In other words, of the leading economists who offered their thoughts on who could best turn around the American economy, 24 out of 25 chose Romney. This is not just happenstance. Romney knows the economy through and through — and everything our government offers, from the most basic services and social safety nets all the way to military and national defense, depends upon a thriving economy. The business community will welcome the news of a Romney presidency, and it’s easy to see why when you take a look at Romney’s economic plan — a marvel of creative, pro-growth economic conservatism. If you haven’t read it, you really should. I’m particularly encouraged that we could have a President who understands the financial sector, since so much of our fate is now tied together with the financial giants. Romney is the best prepared to rebuild a thriving, job-producing economy.
On matters of foreign policy, Romney’s positions are consistently conservative, consistently show a solid appreciation of America’s unique role in the world, and consistently support our allies and promote a strong national defense. On what I consider some of the most important matters facing the next President: Romney believes that a strong America that sets the international agenda and promotes the interests of democracy and the free market are in the best interest of the world; he favors a stronger, more multi-layered national missile defense system than Obama; he favors a stronger military, increasing the Navy’s ship-building rate and replacing the aging equipment of the Army, Air Force and Marines. His positions with regard to Russia and China, rogue nations, and the threat of radical Islamic Jihadism are clear, smart, and, again, consistently conservative. Romney, I’m convinced, will establish an excellent team and represent us well on the international stage.
Mitt Romney Part 2: Moral Leadership
This weekend there are articles — fed by opposing campaigns — meant to slime Romney’s record for Iowa evangelicals. I can’t address every criticism, but let me deal with abortion in particular to show how many conservatives have accepted a false impression of Romney’s positions.
It’s true, as he has explained many times, that Romney’s views on abortion have changed. I really don’t care in the slightest what his views were 17 years ago, or even 10 years ago. Sometimes the most passionate advocates are converts to the cause (Reagan and Henry Hyde come to mind). The question, of course, is whether we can trust that he is, right now, honestly representing his stances. But if his convictions were feigned, if he were adopting positions for political convenience, why in the world — it makes no sense whatsoever — would he have changed those positions when he did? Romney was Governor of one of the most liberal states in the union from 2003 to 2007. Essentially, the first time that he was confronted with a “life” issue as Governor, in 2004, he did his research (as he always does) and came to the conclusion that his earlier support for abortion access was ill-considered. Having come to this viewpoint, he has acted in a pro-life manner consistently ever since.
Now, if you were actually, secretly pro-choice, and wanted to be an effective Governor of a blue state, and then change your views on abortion in order to situate yourself for an eventual Presidential run, wouldn’t you wait until later in your Governorship? Wouldn’t you wait until after you’ve dealt with some of the most nettlesome life issues? Remember that this was not 2010 or 2011, when conservatives were on the ascendant, and when Romney needs to appeal to the Hard Right. This was 2004, when any person in Romney’s situation, if he wanted to run for President, would be thinking more of moderation and nuance. Remember, too, that Romney’s wife Ann has multiple sclerosis, which many people were saying embryonic stem cell research could address. So, wouldn’t you proclaim yourself pro-life but open to stem-cell research and the morning-after pill?
That’s not what Romney did. Against the roaring outrage of the liberal establishment in Massachusetts, and against the will of the very powerful research universities in Boston and Cambridge, Romney vetoed a bill that would have expanded support for embryonic stem cell research. He could not condone “embryo farming” that treated “innocent new life as nothing more than research material or a commodity to be exploited.”
Yet this issue has been thoroughly demagogued. Let me give an example. Yesterday I mentioned the superficial caricaturing of Erick Erickson, and he just gave us a great example of the genre. The title was: “Mitt Romney Didn’t Just Give Planned Parenthood Money, He Gave Them Extra Power.” Erickson makes a non sequitur reference to $150 Romney gave Planned Parenthood seventeen years ago, when everyone acknowledges he supported access to abortion (and of course Planned Parenthood does other things too, so there may be more to the story here.) But the real smoking gun, for Erickson, comes in three parts:
- Romney appointed “to the Massachusetts bench” a fellow named Matthew Nestor, who once touted himself as pro-choice. But really, Nestor was appointed to the Cambridge District Court, where he would deal with low-level misdemeanors, and would have nothing whatsoever to do with abortion law. Romney sought judges who would be tough on crime, and Nestor recently made news for sending a Democratic State Senator to jail.
- After vetoing a law that would have expanded access to the morning-after pill, Romney “slid back and signed a bill that expanded state subsidized access to the morning after pill.” But, again, not really. The report Erickson cites says the measure “could expand the number of people who get access to family planning services.” For legal analysis, I turn to David French: ”The bill he signed was merely a request for Massachusetts to get federal reimbursement for services it was already providing at cost to the state — the state was paying $5 million per year already and had a chance at a 90% federal reimbursement. This is no change in Mass law but an attempt at cost-shifting to the feds. It did not pay for abortions.”
- And third, the coup de grace for Erickson: Romney, two years after his conversion in 2004, “expanded access to abortion and gave Planned Parenthood new rights under state law.” But again, this is so defiantly superficial that it’s outright misleading. Romney’s health care law only made abortion more accessible in the same sense that it made all health care more accessible; but since there was already a court ruling in Massachusetts requiring taxpayer funding of abortions, the expansion of state provision of health care arguably did nothing to make abortion more accessible. Moreover, in the midst of crafting a very complicated law that required a lot of compromise across the aisle, Planned Parenthood was actually given 1 of 14 slots on a payment rate advisory board. They were not given “new rights”; their power was merely advisory, and it had no authority over abortion-related matters.
Again, there are areas for legitimate disagreement here. Some conservatives think Romney should have defied the court ruling that mandates taxpayer funding of abortions — but Romney, with great justification, believes that Governors are executives who execute the laws that are passed by the legislature and interpreted by the courts. But this latest piece from Erickson is just another in a long line of weak-sauce attack articles that prop up one-sided Potempkin-Mitts in order to knock them over and benefit other candidates.
Romney has been very clear throughout the debates and countless interviews: he believes life begins at conception, opposes Roe v. Wade, will nominate pro-life judges, would overturn the Mexico City policy, and will oppose embryonic stem cell research. Most importantly, he supports the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which may be the best approach presently available to protecting the lives of a great swath of the unborn. See Romney’s own statement on his pro-life views.
I’ll write about same-sex marriage later next week (where the case against him is even weaker), but the sum of the matter is this. I lived in Massachusetts for the whole of his governorship, and Romney consistently stood up for social conservative causes against enormous pressure from the Far-Left legislature and the Far-Left Boston Brahmins on Beacon Hill and Harvard Yard. Which shows greater courage and greater conviction? Holding thoroughly conservative views in a conservative state, or fighting for conservative values in a blue state? Which is a better predictor that a candidate will maintain his social-conservative positions when he gets into the left-leaning Beltway? And which candidate will be more sure to keep his word once in office: one who was never really questioned on the sincerity of his views, or one who still has to prove himself to supporters?
But personal morality should not be overlooked here, either. I cannot tell you how many stories I’ve heard from Romney’s friends and acquaintances about his integrity, his compassion, his selflessness and generosity, and his excellent family values. These mean a great deal to me. If we would restore the moral underpinnings of our society, we need someone who represents those virtues. I also value — let’s call it what it is — all the pastoral experience Romney gained as a major leader in Boston Mormon circles. I grew up watching my (elder and pastor) father deal with all the same issues Romney would have dealt with: crumbling marriages, wayward children, alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual infidelity, depression, and the like. I’ll add Mormonism at greater length in another post, but I’m actually very glad that his experience in the Mormon church has given Romney this experience speaking wisdom and healing into broken lives and broken relationships.
Mitt Romney Part 3: The Power to Beat Obama
Finally, don’t fool yourself. Obama is a formidable campaigner. He will have a massive war chest at his disposal and a media, entertainment, academic and labor establishments that will still much prefer him to a Republican. The Left Wing will get fired up over Obama again, and we’re going to need all of the eloquence and intellectual firepower and presidential gravitas that we can get.
I know conservatives differ on this, but Romney is the only candidate that I’m confident can beat Obama. Look at the latest numbers from Rasmussen, where Romney beats Obama by 6 points among likely voters (45% to 39%) while Gingrich and Santorum are 10 points behind the President (37% to 47%). That’s a 16-point swing. Remember: Barack Obama has not really begun to campaign yet. This is going to be a hard-fought, tooth-and-nail electoral contest, and only Romney has the resources, the organization, the skills and the credibility to be a clear favorite over Obama.
I respect conservatives who support other candidates, but I firmly believe that Mitt’s the right guy at the right time. We need to get past the superficialities, get past the misinformation, and see that we have in Mitt Romney an excellent candidate for this particular historical moment. Is he perfect? Of course not. Do I defend what he has said and done in every particular? Not at all. But it gives me great comfort to know that the leading candidate right now is the one with the best chance of turning our economy around, the one who will represent us well on the international stage, the one who stands for the right values, and the same one who has the best chance of beating Obama.
This is a rare confluence of fortune. Let’s not steal defeat from the jaws of victory here. Sincerely,