Thomas Sowell is a columnist and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Reach him at email@example.com.
A funny thing happened to Mitt Romney on the way to his coronation as the “inevitable” Republican candidate for president of the United States. Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado happened. Rick Santorum beat him in all three states on the same day -- and beat him by huge margins in two of those states, as well as upsetting him in Colorado, where the Mormon vote was expected to give Romney a victory.
The Republican establishment, which has lined up heavily behind Romney, has tried to depict him as the “electable,” if not invincible, candidate this November. But it is hard to maintain an aura of invincibility in a month when pundits had suggested that Romney might build an unstoppable momentum of victories.
This year’s campaign for the Republican nomination is reminiscent of what happened in 1940, when the big-name favorites -- Sens. Robert Taft and Arthur Vandenberg -- were eclipsed by a lesser known candidate who seemed to come out of nowhere. As the Republican convention that year struggled to try to come up with a majority vote for someone, a chant began in the hall and built to a crescendo: “We want Willkie! We want Willkie!” If there is a message in the rise and fall of so many conservative Republican candidates during this year’s primary season, it seems to be today’s Republican voters saying, “We don’t want Romney! We don’t want Romney!”Even in Colorado, where Romney came closest to winning, the combined votes for Santorum and Newt Gingrich added to an absolute majority against him.
Much has been made of Gingrich’s “baggage,” but Romney’s baggage has been accumulating recently, as well. His millions of dollars parked in a tax shelter in the Cayman Islands is red meat for the class-warfare Democrats.
But a far more serious issue is Obama Care, perhaps the most unpopular act of the Obama administration, its totalitarian implications highlighted by its recent attempt to force Catholic institutions to violate their own principles and bend the knee to the dictates of Washington bureaucrats. Yet Romney’s own state-imposed medical care plan when he was governor of Massachusetts leaves him in a very weak position to criticize Obama Care, except on strained federalism grounds that are unlikely to stir the voters or clarify the larger issues.
The Romney camp’s massive ad campaign of character assassination against Gingrich over charges on which the Internal Revenue Service exonerated Gingrich after a lengthy investigation was by no means Romney’s finest hour, though it won him the Florida primary. This might well have been payback for Newt’s demagoguery about Romney’s work at Bain Capital. But two character assassinations do not make either candidate look presidential.Some politicians and pundits seem to think that President Obama is vulnerable politically because of the economy in the doldrums. “It’s the economy, stupid” has become one of the many mindless mantras of our time. What Obama seems to understand, and that most Republicans and many in the media do not, is that dependency on the government in hard times can translate into votes for the White House incumbent.Growing numbers of Americans on food stamps, jobs preserved by bailouts, people living on extended unemployment payments and people behind in their mortgage payments being helped by government interventions are all potential voters for those who rescued them -- even if their rescuers are the reason for hard times in the first place.
The economy was far worse during the first term of Franklin D. Roosevelt than it has been under Obama. Despite unemployment rates during FDR’s term being more than double what they have been in Obama’s term, FDR was re-elected in a landslide.
Dependency pays off for politicians, even when it damages an economy or ruins a society.