Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mitt Over Newt

Let me say at the outset that neither of these guys is my first choice. At this stage if I were voting, I would vote for Ron Paul (and still will if he is on the ballot when my state finally votes in the primaries). Paul is unique among the GOP candidates for his refusal to embrace militaristic interventionism and his plan for shrinking government is far more comprehensive and serious than that of other candidates. Ron Paul has been consistent on the issues for a very long time and hopefully will emerge from Iowa and New Hampshire with solid footing if not an outright win. Anyway, the media is all abuzz with the news of Gingrich, left for dead like road kill, rising Lazarus-like from the dead to become the latest “Not Romney” and seizing the lead in many polls over Mitt Romney who seems stuck at a modest level of support.

Gingrich, on paper, seems like a solid conservative choice but the closer I look at him, the more convinced I am that he is a poor candidate to unseat Obama and that Mitt Romney is the better choice.

A lot of conservatives, including me, view Romney with some level of suspicion because of his flip-flopping on important issues and particularly because of Romney-care in Massachusetts. But as James Taranto states, writing for the Wall Street Journal, Mitt Romney has hardly cornered the market on flip-flopping…

So Newt is hardly a paragon of consistent conservative values (unlike say…Ron Paul). Even his recent potshot at Paul Ryan’s budget plan (describing it as “right wing social engineering”) caused a great deal of consternation among conservatives. Don't forget his questionable dealings with Fannie Mae, one of the great boondoggles in the history of America.
The main Republican objection to Romney is that he is inconstant, and thus not a true conservative. But is Gingrich really any better in this regard? In the past he has endorsed the individual mandate for medical insurance and even made a global-warmist video with Nancy Pelosi in which the two ex-speakers share a love seat!
Oddly, Newt is also not nearly as popular with people he was worked with in the past than he is with the primary voters. He seems to have a knack for rubbing people the wrong way, not for his principled stands so much as for being a jerk. Romney is by all accounts a nice guy and in my eyes has been a loyal soldier for some time. During the last election when Mitt finally conceded the nomination to John McCain, he was a good trooper and did all of the right stuff to support the doomed candidacy of Senator McCain. I think few people noticed it but I certainly did and applaud him for it.

When it comes to personal issues, issues of character, there is no contest. A co-worker often remarks to me that when you are on an airplane, you don’t care what kind of guy the pilot is, just that he lands the plane safely and gets you to the gate. Being President is somewhat more complicated because when you are the leader of the free world, a man with enormous power and influence unlike anyone else, personal issues matter. You represent us as a people to the world. While you might think that personal issues are not terribly important in this election given the dire straits our nation finds itself in, I still think that the personal life of a candidate speaks to their character. In other words, character counts. A man who is untrustworthy as a person is not someone I am keen on putting at the head of the world’s most powerful military. I trust Newt far more than I trust Obama but that is the equivalent of stumbling over a pretty low bar.

The sordid story of Newt Gingrich as a person is well known. Newt is thrice married, twice divorcing his wife at the time for the woman he was having an affair with. His current wife is 23 years his junior. In an interview earlier this year, Newt blamed it on his love for country:

Wearing white after Labor Day is not appropriate. Cheating on your wife and getting divorced twice is sinning. Big difference. Newt might be one of the few politicians who can match Barack Obama in terms of narcissism and utter lack of self-awareness. No President other than Ronald Reagan has been divorced and The Gipper met Nancy after his divorce was in process. Callista Gingrich would be the first home-wrecker to serve as first lady, not a particularly noble distinction.
There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.
Mitt Romney meanwhile married his first wife in 1969 and 42 years later is married to…that same woman.

There are concerns that many evangelical voters will shy away from Mitt because he is a mormon. As a former mormon Mitt’s faith concerns me as well but as a former mormon I also can see pretty clearly that Mitt’s mormonism plays second fiddle to his political career. Besides, when push comes to shove and I have to choose between unbelievers for President, I choose Mitt over Obama 100 times out of 100. It is not exactly as if Newt Gingrich is a poster child for evangelicalism. Newt Gingrich converted fairly recently to Catholicism, the faith of his current wife (that he left his prior wife for (who of course was the wife he left the wife before that for)). Not exactly a Damascus Road type conversion story.

So in summary. Romney is no less a conservative than Newt, he is not more of a flip-flopper and he is far and away a man of better character. By any rational measure he is more electable because he will draw more independents and Newt certainly carries an enormous amount of personal baggage that will cause voters to think twice (polling numbers show this fact quite starkly). While Romney doesn’t have Newt’s knack for casting random historical facts around, I have a hard time believing that voters will find Gingrich’s pompous self-importance very endearing and lest we forget Romney has a B.A. from BYU and a M.B.A. and J.D. from Harvard, so he is no dummy. By almost any measure other than personal repugnance, Mitt Romney is a better choice than Newt Gingrich. I still can’t believe that we are at this point where Newt Gingrich is the front runner. Where is Mitch Daniels when we need him?

Of course the best choice is still Ron Paul
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