January 19, 2008
There is a developing conventional wisdom that Mitt Romney primarily appeals to and represents “economic conservatives” within the Republican coalition, a view that has not been shaken very much by the candidate’s interventionist promises to quintuple government spending on technology research to benefit Michigan’s battered auto industry. Romney backers seem to be unfazed by this, just as his record of signing universal, government-mandated health care into law did not deter them from labeling him sound on economic and fiscal policy, but among those not already declared for the former governor, Romney’s latest round of telling his audience whatever they wanted to hear has gone over very badly.
Romney must be one of the first Republican candidates ever to be likened to a Soviet premier on account of his economic proposals. The harsh criticism of Romney from some free market conservatives reminds us that the phrase “economic conservative” obscures the reality that it is corporate Republican interests that Romney serves, and it is these Republicans and those sympathetic to them who are rallying around Romney. Without the ability to play on local patriotism and nostalgia for his father, as he did in Michigan, it is not surprising that Romney’s pitch to South Carolina, which has also been affected substantially by the loss of local industry, has so far failed to improve his standing there. Now faced with the embarrassing possibility of finishing behind the tired and sputtering Fred Thompson on Saturday, Romney has opted to focus most of his energies on the Nevada caucus held on the same day A decision that appears to have paid off.
There are two things particularly striking about Romney’s appeal to Washington for the solution to Michigan’s economic woes. The first is that Romney has partly built his “transformation” campaign around the argument that the federal government has been overspending, but has vowed to increase spending within the “first 100 days” in a transparent (and successful) effort to buy votes in Michigan”his own fortune is no longer sufficient to buy supporters, so now he must draw on our money as well. The second, more telling problem is that Romney embodies not only the image of corporate America, but also possesses the mentality and ideology of the free-trading globalists who policies have worked to reduce manufacturing in Michigan and across the Midwest and the country to its present state. Even if Romney’s proposals were sincere (doubtful) and even if they were efficacious (unlikely) in ameliorating some of the damage of broader trade policy, he has stated that he has every intention of pushing for additional free-trade agreements and exacerbating the causes of de-industrialization and job losses. It is therefore all the more disturbing that someone who embraces the policies that have contributed to the economic ravaging of his home state can win over a plurality of voters based on little more than sentiment and promises to make them more dependent on the government that has failed them.