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Conrad Black


Why Romney Lost and Jeb Bush Could Win

Posted: 04/04/2013 8:10 am

As occurs immediately after every American presidential election, the campaign for the next election has already begun. The 2012 election was the Republican Party's to lose and it managed that task admirably. Everyone knew that Mitt Romney was not a strong candidate and if he had been facing a strong opponent who had been able to run on and not away from his record, the election would have been a second-term landslide like FDR's over Alfred Landon in 1936, Ike's over Adlai Stevenson in 1956, Richard Nixon's over George McGovern in 1972, and Ronald Reagan's over Walter Mondale in 1984. It was not like those and the administration campaigned by exploiting the foot-in-mouth tactics of the Republicans, who amply fulfilled philosopher John Stuart Mill's description of the conservatives as "the stupid party."

President Obama, for obvious reasons, was pretty well assured of the African-American vote. Because the Republican nominee obligingly proposed a rather unaccommodating stance opposite the under-documented immigrants, he lost almost the entire Hispanic vote to the Democrats, apart from the hard core of anti-Castro militants in Florida, without attracting any appreciable number of people who were not going to vote Republican anyway. The inept and fearful Republican response to the regime's effort to exploit the gap between the official position on contraception of the Roman Catholic Church, and the position in practice of that Church, enabled the Democrats to reap a large harvest of support from independent voters among women and young people of both sexes who bought some of the official insinuation that Romney and his party were anti-woman, anti-contraception, and anti-abortion, and that the Republican Party was infested with bigots and fuddy-duddies.

Romney managed to flounder into this fiasco without mobilizing any appreciable number of Roman Catholic or other traditionalists who were not already committed to vote for him. This is in part the consequence of nominating a candidate who had faced in all four directions on most of the issues that were allowed to dominate the debate. He had nibbled all the way around the edges on abortion, health care, same-sex marriage, and other issues that should not be among the principal criteria for choosing a president, as well as taxes, and allowed Obama to get away with an appalling economic and foreign policy performance. The African-Americans, Hispanics (who comprise almost 40 per cent of the country's Roman Catholics), moderate feminists and their sympathizers, and gays must have accorded Mr. Obama a heavy majority, probably over 80 per cent, which, with the habitual Democratic majority among the general category of average Americans undistinguishable by sect, ethnicity, region, or lifestyle, reelected a regime that did not deserve to be returned. The Republicans kept the torso of middle and upper income America, but lost all their limbs.

Not all of this can be laid at the door of Mitt Romney. Each new candidate who entered the Republican race, no matter how improbable, surged to the top of the polls of a party that had serious reservations about its front-runner. Michelle Bachmann (completely unqualified), Rick Perry (who, "Oops," jogged with a hand-gun in his belt), Herman Cain (likeable but never elected, simplistic and a serial cad), Newt Gingrich (brilliant but, as Peggy Noonan wrote, "a human hand grenade who walks around with his hand on the pin, saying, 'Watch this!'"), Rick Santorum (thoughtful but very traditional and with too narrow an appeal for the majority), all shot upwards and burst and fell like fireworks on the Fourth of July when primary voters got a serious look at them.

The Republicans didn't really want to win, as was made clear by the fact that their strongest candidates didn't make the race. If the candidates who could win don't run, their party will lose. Mitch Daniels apparently couldn't persuade his family to agree to a run. Chris Christie did not answer the call even when it came from Nancy Reagan and Henry Kissinger. Jeb Bush would not hear of it, Marco Rubio felt he was too inexperienced, and Paul Ryan, who is young and from congressman to president is a long leap that only one president has made (James A. Garfield), at least made the race as vice president. Jeb Bush presumably felt that the country was not ready for another Bush, meaning that he, as the next Bush, would not make it so he shouldn't try. All of them may have had good excuses not to run, but they were the strongest candidates and as I said, when the strongest candidates won't run, the party loses. In the terrible year of 1968, with 550,000 draftees in Vietnam, 200 to 400 coming back in body bags every week in a war that had not been explained and was not apparently being won, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and riots, over race and war, all over the country all year; Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Robert Kennedy, Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan all, at one point, ran for president.

Of these people who did not try in 2012, the chance will not come again for some. Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie are unlikely to repeat as possible front-runners. Christie's large and vocal persona is fine for New Jersey, but he is a deficit-cutter, a talent that is likely to continue to be useful, but he is also an ex-prosecutor, a very dubious occupation in a very corrupt state, and there is no sign that he knows much about federal issues or has much applied himself to some state issues such as health care and education. It isn't clear that Mitch Daniels, a diminutive man, wishes to remain in politics, rather than returning to a Republican cabinet, where he was under George W. Bush as a successful budget director. Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan will be available, but Ryan will still, likely, be a congressman, albeit a respected and influential one. Rubio is a possibility but he will have to be less slick and facile and more substantial -- still, this may well be feasible.

The likeliest at this point is Jeb Bush. The animosity to his brother will fade and the sense of tedium at another Bush will pass. And Jeb Bush has much more of what his father called "the vision thing" than the two presidents in his family already, and is much less malapropistic than they. In a recent address to the Conservative Political Action Conference, excerpted in The Wall Street Journal, Jeb Bush made the points a victorious leader of his party will have to make. He debunked the American declinists but decried profligate public spending and failing public education, and spoke from the experience of two terms as governor of the country's fifth state in population (Florida). Jeb Bush believes that the U.S. can resume its rise as a prosperous and civil nation if immigration is handled intelligently (his wife is Hispanic), and that it will be able to master the aging problem.

His program is to create a climate that admires success rather than reviling the proverbial one percent that are successful; an education system benchmarked to the best in the world and not just other failing domestic systems; a path to legitimacy for immigrants but one that does not leapfrog those who have followed the rules; and a re-emphasis of private sector solutions. He cautioned Republicans against alienating large groups of the population, both in principle, and on the mistaken tactical supposition that divisiveness brings in more votes than it alienates.

Jeb Bush sounds like a president, and if he didn't have some interest in the position, it is unlikely that he would take the trouble to sound like he does. The office is not, as far as can be discerned, seeking the man (or woman). But it does appear to be seeking someone who can do the job. The Obama interlude was an interruption after seven consecutive elections in which a Bush or Clinton or each, was nominated to national office. On April 24, the day before the opening of the George W. Bush presidential center at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton will debate. It should be the first of many, building to the 2016 election.

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  • 2012 -- Barack Obama

    U.S. President Barack Obama waves to supporters following his victory speech on election night in Chicago, Illinois on November 6, 2012. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 2008 -- Barack Obama

    Nov. 4, 2008: U.S. president-elect Barack Obama waves at his supporters during his election night victory rally at Grant Park in Chicago. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 2004 -- George W. Bush

    In this Nov. 3, 2004 file photo, President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush salute and wave during an election victory rally at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

  • 2000 -- George W. Bush

    U.S. Republican presidential candidate and Texas Governor George W. Bush casts his vote in Austin, Texas on November 7, 2000. (PAUL RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 1996 -- Bill Clinton

    President Bill Clinton, wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea wave to supporters in front of the Old State House during an election night celebration in Little Rock, Ark. on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 1996. (AP Photo/David Longstreath)

  • 1992 -- Bill Clinton

    Bill Clinton and Al Gore celebrate in Little Rock, Arkansas after winning in a landslide election on November 3, 1992. (AP Photo)

  • 1988 -- George H. W. Bush

    President-elect George Bush and his family celebrate his victory on November 8,1988 at the Brown Convention Center in Houston. (WALT FRERCK/AFP/Getty Images) <em><strong>CORRECTION:</strong> An earlier version of this slide was titled "George W. Bush." It has been fixed.</em>

  • 1984 -- Ronald Reagan

    President Ronald Reagan gives a thumbs-up to supporters at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles as he celebrates his re-election, Nov. 6, 1984, with first lady Nancy Reagan at his side. (AP Photo/File)

  • 1980 -- Ronald Reagan

    President-elect Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy wave to well-wishers on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 1980 at Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles after his election victory. (AP Photo)

  • 1976 -- Jimmy Carter

    Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter embraces his wife Rosalynn after receiving the final news of his victory in the national general election on November 2, 1976. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • 1972 -- Richard Nixon

    U.S. President Richard M. Nixon meets at Camp David, Maryland, on November 13, 1972 to discuss the Vietnam situation with Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger (L) and Maj. Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr.(R), Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. (Photo by AFP PHOTO/NATIONAL ARCHIVE/Getty Images)

  • 1968 -- Richard Nixon

    President-elect Richard M. Nixon and his wife, Pat, were a picture of joy at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, Nov. 6, 1968, as he thanked campaign workers. At left are David Eisenhower, Julie Nixon's fiance, Julie and her sister Tricia at center. (AP Photo)

  • 1964 -- Lyndon Johnson

    President Lyndon Johnson proves he's a pretty good cowhand as he puts his horse, Lady B, through the paces of rounding up a Hereford yearling on his LBJ Ranch near Stonewall, Texas, on November 4, 1964. (AP Photo/Bill Hudson)

  • 1960 -- John F. Kennedy

    Caroline Kennedy peeps over the shoulder of her father, Senator John F. Kennedy, as he gave her a piggy-back ride November 9, 1960 at the Kennedy residence in Hyannis Port, Mass. It was the first chance president-elect Kennedy had to relax with his daughter in weeks. (AP Photo)

  • 1956 -- Dwight D. Eisenhower

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon salute cheering workers and Republicans at GOP election headquarters in Washington, November 7, 1956, after Adlai Stevenson conceded. (AP Photo)

  • 1952 -- Dwight D. Eisenhower

    President-elect Dwight Eisenhower and first lady-elect Mamie Eisenhower wave to the cheering, singing crowd in the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Commodore in New York City on Nov. 5, 1952 after Gov. Adlai Stevenson conceded defeat. (AP Photo/Matty Zimmerman)

  • 1948 -- Harry S. Truman

    U.S. President Harry S. Truman holds up an Election Day edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune, which, based on early results, mistakenly announced "Dewey Defeats Truman" on November 4, 1948. The president told well-wishers at St. Louis' Union Station, "That is one for the books!" (AP Photo/Byron Rollins)

  • 1944 -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

    President Franklin Roosevelt greets a young admirer as he sits outside his home in Hyde Park, N.Y., on election night, November 7, 1944. Behind him stands his daughter, Mrs. Anna Roosevelt Boettinger and the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. (AP Photo)

  • 1940 -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

    American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 - 1945) speaking to a crowd of 25,000 at Madison Square Garden in New York on Nov. 8, 1940, before his sweeping re-election for a third term. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

  • 1936 -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

    The Republican Governor of Kansas and presidential candidate, Alfred Landon (1887 - 1987) greeting the American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 - 1945) (seated) prior to the presidential elections. Future United States President Harry S. Truman can been seen in the background. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

  • 1932 -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

    Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York at his Hyde Park, N.Y. home November 6, 1932, seen at the conclusion of the arduous months of campaigning following his presidential nomination in Chicago. (AP Photo)

  • 1928 -- Herbert Hoover

    President-elect Herbert Hoover is seated at a table with wife, Lou, and joined by other family members on Nov. 9, 1928. Standing from left: Allan Hoover; son; Margaret Hoover, with husband, Herbert Hoover, Jr.,at right. Peggy Ann Hoover, daughter of Herbert Hoover Jr., sits with her grandmother. (AP Photo)

  • 1924 -- Calvin Coolidge

    U.S. President Calvin Coolidge and first lady Grace Coolidge are shown with their dog at the White House portico in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 5, 1924. (AP Photo)

  • 1920 -- Warren Harding

    Senator Warren Harding, with wife Florence and his father George, shown on Aug. 27, 1920. (AP Photo)

  • 1916 -- Woodrow Wilson

    Surrounded by crowds, President Woodrow Wilson throws out the first ball at a baseball game in Washington in this 1916 photo. (AP Photo)

  • 1912 -- Woodrow Wilson

    Woodrow Wilson (1856 - 1924), the future American president, casts his vote while Governor of New Jersey, on Nov. 14, 1912. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)