I’m sure you are getting more than you want of the constant dribble of the triviality of much of the interplay among Republican primary candidates and I don’t want to add to the frustration, but I can’t avoid a few shots. First, I have been appalled at the demagoguery from several candidates, primarily Perry and Gingrich, with their attacks on the “job destruction” and “vulture capitalism” involved in Bain Capital’s generally successful corporate restructuring and turnaround strategy under Mitt Romney’s leadership, a strategy which in many cases saved companies from total failure and ultimately preserved many times more jobs than were displaced. This is a textbook example of creative destruction, a core principle of capitalism best characterized by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter, and without which there is no long term economic growth. It is an essential component of classical liberal economics, of which we need more, not less. It is difficult enough to defend free market capitalism in this environment without a circular firing squad among people who should know better. And the notion that several so-called conservative Republican Presidential candidates are reduced to an attack on these practices is beyond negative campaign tactics, it is an embarrassment and it gives Barack Obama cover for similar attacks with impunity in the general election campaign.
But Romney doesn’t get it, either. He doesn’t know how to respond to the unfounded attacks on the Bain record, because he seems to want to account for the validity of the Bain business plan with individual anecdotes or case studies. This is a failed approach. And he compounded the problem when he drew an analogy between his work at Bain with Obama’s bailout and layoffs at GM and Chrysler, implying in effect that these practices approach some sort of equivalence! An instinctive conservative would have a natural response to such attacks grounded in a defense of creative destruction on its face based on the principles of capitalism and the dynamics and underlying morality of the free market system.
Another example: Romney’s recent comments on his concern, or lack thereof, with the poor and working class and his policy emphasis on the middle class were probably well-intentioned, but a conservative would never think of couching his remarks on economic policy in terms of who among the various classes or income quintiles might or might not be targeted or benefit from policy. Similarly, his previous misguided comments on favoring tax rate cuts only for those below certain income levels. And now we learn that he supports an increasing minimum wage indexed for inflation–digging the hole deeper! This is industrial policy talk, this is redistributionist thinking, this is the thinking of the left and it will be a dangerous trip down the class warfare trail that overwhelmingly favors the Democrats. A conservative thinks instinctively in terms of the dynamics of markets, economic mobility, and opportunity that benefit all Americans who work hard and are incentivized and supported by consistent and fair taxation for all and unobtrusive government regulation.
Romney doesn’t seem to be instinctive about these issues. These are not responses that one learns on the campaign trail; they come naturally to a conservative. So far, he is all about his resume, which is the best of the field by far, his “inevitability” as the nominee, his funding, and his organization in the field, but “movement” conservatives want much more than that. They want a President who defends creative destruction on its merits; they want a President who defends capitalism as the most moral of economic and societal orders; they want a President who is immersed in the moral principles outlined by Michael Novak in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism and who understands and articulates the validity of supply side fiscal policy; they want a President who knows and says that the primary role of the Federal Reserve is to maintain the value and stability of the dollar; and they want a President who understands that Barack Obama is not just a “nice guy who is in over his head”, but who means what he says when he declares that he wants to transform America, and that this election is about much more than policy or competency, but is about defeating a regime whose mission is to fundamentally redefine our founding.
A bruising primary fight should have been productive in making Mitt Romney sharper in his proposals and more energizing to a Republican base that is hungry for this bold agenda, and maybe I have missed some messages, but it seems that all it has done so far is to toughen his negative character attacks. Newt Gingrich has more baggage, volatility, and ego than most people can stomach, and would be a very high risk nominee, but he moves people. Reagan could do that, Thatcher could do that, and, however deeply misguided in content, Obama can do that, but Romney hasn’t done that and it’s the reason he hasn’t closed the deal. It’s not about the resume, it’s about the instincts.