Sunday, January 15, 2012

A sober assessment of Mitt Romney

With it becoming more and more likely that Mitt Romney is going to quickly lock up the Republican presidential nomination (consider the most recent Reuters/IPSOS poll about South Carolina, which holds its primary this Saturday), the examination of his business record is more important to review.

The Economist, one of my favorite news sources, made Mr. Romney its cover story in this week's issue. In an opening editorial, the newspaper examines if he can sway independents to vote for him.
The most important fact about Mr Romney is that he is a non-ideological man who did something that America needs a lot more of. In 2002 he was elected to govern Massachusetts, normally a Democratic stronghold. He passed a version of health-care reform that is at once his proudest achievement and his biggest liability. Back then a system based on obliging everyone to buy private health insurance was a conservative idea, and Mr Romney did a good job of working with a hostile legislature to get it passed. (Today, his party viscerally opposes Mr Obama’s health reforms, which are closely modelled on Mr Romney’s; such are the twists of politics.) He also turned round Massachusetts’s finances, just as he had earlier righted the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Mr Romney needs to make these successes count for more than they have so far. Once the primaries are over, and America’s independents rather than the Republican Party faithful become the electorate to win over, he may be able to.

Second, Mr Romney has something that the president and his Republican rivals sorely lack: business experience. For 25 years he made himself and the management consultancies BCG and Bain a lot of money by making companies more efficient which, yes, sometimes means firing people, but also drives economic growth (see article). So far, Mr Romney has done a poor job of defending himself against attacks which are really aimed at the creative destruction which is the essence of capitalism itself. He says he created a net 100,000 jobs during his time at Bain. That figure is impossible to prove, but he could do more to argue that the benefits outweigh the costs. His task has not been helped by disgraceful attacks from fellow-Republicans on corporate restructuring.
Third, Mr Romney seems sure-footed. It is hard to think of a single misstep in this campaign. He may be wooden, but no scandal has ever attached to him. His family life is impeccably monogamous and progenitive. Those who have worked closely with him tend to admire him. On both the economic and the foreign-policy sides, he has already put together impressive and above all sensibly moderate teams.
You also can read a piece from one of The Economist's columnists. That piece suggests Mr. Romney has been shaped by three distinct business revolutions.

Social conservatives continue to have concerns about the former Massachusetts governor. as the New York Times notes, on Saturday more than 100 conservative religious leaders attempted to throw ice-cold water on Mr. Romney's march to the Republican nomination.
Reaching what one organizer called an “unexpected supermajority,” a meeting of more than 100 conservative Christian leaders voted on Saturday to support Rick Santorum for the Republican presidential nomination. 
The strong vote for Mr. Santorum by many luminaries of the conservative Christian cause was a blow to Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, and to Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who have both competed with Mr. Santorum for the conservative Christian vote.
The extent to which those attending the meeting will be able to mobilize their followers behind Mr. Santorum remained unclear. The group’s vote  is not binding on participants and the group did not ask Mr. Gingrich or Mr. Perry to drop out of the race.
But organizers of the meeting, at a ranch here, said they expected to see a flood of new endorsements and fund-raising efforts on behalf of Mr. Santorum as the crucial primaries approach in South Carolina on Jan. 21 and in Florida on Jan 31. Their hope is that if evangelicals unite around one candidate they can head off the nomination of Mitt Romney, whom they regard as too moderate.
“There is a hope and an expectation that this will have an impact on South Carolina,” Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council and a spokesman for the meeting, said in a telephone news conference.
Will it matter?

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