I am just a foreign policy geek, so, like Phil Hartman’s unfrozen caveman lawyer on the old Saturday Night Live, I am confused by the world of election-eve pundits. So please, someone, explain some things to me.
For instance, Republican spin-meisters are reportedly preparing to blame Hurricane Sandy if President Obama wins re-election. But, assuming the analysis is true—and it’s dubious—why is this a matter of “blame”? For months now, Mitt Romney and his surrogates have been slamming Obama for lacking “leadership”—a baseless accusation, but again, let’s say there’s something to it: a major storm, which requires federal assistance, is surely a test of presidential leadership. If the response had been dreadful, as was, say, George W. Bush’s to Hurricane Katrina, Romney would be trumpeting it as proof of his claim. But, as just about everyone agrees, Obama’s performance has been exemplary. If anything, Sandy has served as a vindication of his administration—and a refutation of Romney’s loudest charge.
Then there’s the argument that if Romney wins, it will only be because he moved to the center and that, therefore, in order to be re-elected four years from now, he will govern in the center as well. This logic makes no sense whatever. If Romney wins, it will be because, in addition to the near-majority (say, around 47 percent) that would have voted for him had he remained a “severe conservative,” another 4 or 5 percent were swayed his way by his moderate assurances in the campaign’s final weeks. Which constituency would he serve in the Oval Office: the base he’d long been cultivating or the last-minute converts, a group barely one-tenth the size with no organized pressure group behind it? The question answers itself.
A similar argument, filed most eloquently by David Brooks and the Des Moines Register editorial board, is that, because President Romney would be able to count on the support of all the Republicans and a handful of Democrats, he could break the logjam in Washington and get measures passed. But this raises the question: What measures does he want passed? If he turns out to be more centrist than the GOP stalwarts in Congress, he may face great resistance. (House Speaker John Boehner couldn’t keep his rank-and-file in line; why should Romney think he could do better?) If, as is more likely, he returns (or succumbs) to his party’s right-wing mainstream, Senate Democrats will certainly be able to muster the 41 votes necessary for filibusters.* Either way, a Romney presidency is no solution to gridlock.
Then there are those, like David Frum, the Republican apostate, who sees in the New Romney a candidate who meets his standards of what the GOP should, and once did, stand for. (Long ago, before the Iowa caucus, I asked Frum—who had just been excommunicated from the American Enterprise Institute—if he could vote for any of the Republican candidates. He replied, “I could vote for the good Romney.” Apparently, Frum has found him.) But if the Romney of the debates is the real Romney, how “good” can he be—how good can anyone be—after spending the last two years, before the revelation, lying through his teeth? And how does Frum know that the Romney of the debates—who loves schoolteachers and, of course, would give FEMA all the money it needs—is the real Romney? Nobody knows, even reportedly many of Romney’s own aides. Romney is, at best, a Rorschach blot: the ultimate faith-based candidate.
Finally, there is the most revealing clue of Romney’s true sentiments: Paul Ryan. The running mate and Ayn Rand acolyte has kept his distance from reporters in these final weeks, since the ticket-leader’s 180 shift. But Romney has re-embraced Ryan, referring to him, just on Friday as, second to his wife Ann, “the best choice I’ve ever made.” Only a real caveman lawyer would say anything like that.
Correction, Nov. 5, 2012: Because of a production error, this article originally referred to “the 60 votes necessary for filibusters.” (Return to the corrected sentence.)