With three months remaining in 2011, and the presidential race firming up, I've spent a lot of time recently thnking about the respective candidates, their pros and cons, and who I would feel most comfortable supporting. The reality is, I think we're going to be looking at a Perry-Romney showdown, when push comes to shove. And in that context, it's pretty clear at this point to me that I'm in the Perry camp.
I've had some people ask me why that is recently. I originally became known in the blogosphere for being a squishy moderate/squishy libertarian, and some people seem to see that as consistent with preferring Romney to Perry, if those are the choices. So on a relatively quiet Friday, I figured I'd take a minute and spell it out, especially since reasons #1 and #2 are topical and in the news today.
First, from AFP:
A potent US free-trade group that opposes legislation to punish China over its alleged currency manipulation pressed Republican presidential hopefuls Thursday to say where they stand on the bill.
"Voters deserve to know where the Republican candidates stand on the important issue of trade with China," Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in a statement as the US Senate geared up to act on the measure next week.
The legislation, which enjoys Democratic and Republican support, would make it easier for US firms to seek retaliatory tariffs against Chinese imports if Beijing is found to keep its currency and thus its goods artificially cheap.
Leading Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney has called China an "economic threat" and vowed to designate Beijing a "currency manipulator," a step that can trigger retaliatory US sanctions.
But top Romney rival and Texas Governor Rick Perry's campaign took the opposite tack, with spokesman Mark Miner telling AFP: "This is a free trade issue and Governor Perry does not support this bill."
Let me be blunt: Perry is right. This is a free trade issue. And free trade has been the #1 issue I vote on for a long time now. Romney has been sounding more and more protectionist as this campaign has progressed. On a practical level, as someone who comes from the most trade-dependent state in the country, this bothers me. On a philosophical level, it obviously bothers me, too. I've never been a Romney fan, but his positioning on this is causing me to be more and more skeptical of him as a potential president.
But trade is not the only issue where I'm finding Perry vastly more appealing than Romney. There is also the matter of immigration and Perry signing into law the Texas DREAM Act, which is grabbing the headlines rather a lot at present.
Let's set aside that a) I'm more liberal than many in the Republican base on the matter of immigration generally and b) I've never been entirely sold on the concept of in-state/out-of-state tuition (I avoided the whole thing by moving out of the country for University at 18). There are three points that I think are relevant with regard to Romney's attacks on Perry on this front that are really continuing to put me off Romney in a big way.
First, let's just concede that Romney is hardly someone in possession of a record emblematic of an anti-illegal-immigration hawk. Friends from Massachusetts like to remind me there are more than a few illegal Irish immigrants living there. He was supportive of the Bush and McCain approaches to immigration while governor (but of course before he started running for president). He OK'd state police enforcing immigration laws only in the final days of his term as Massachusetts governor as he was preparing to run for president which suggests political expediency rather than a sound policy/good governance or philosophical rationale in his own interpretation for the move. Rudy Giuliani attacked him pretty effectively for de facto running a sanctuary mansion during one of the debates in the 2008 cycle. Yet Romney continues to use the rhetoric of an immigration hawk, employing language that ocasionally sounds more emblematic of Tom Tancredo than the moderate guy he's supposed to be running as this time around (the arch-conservative Mitt Romney has evidently taken a leave of absence). The whole immigration topic is another reminder of the fact that this guy, to be charitable, lacks a lot of consistency-- one of his biggest vulnerabilities in this race.
Second, I simply don't find it credible that a guy from Massachusetts, with roots in Michigan, knows more about how to handle issues like border security, illegal immigration, and handling of attendant effects of the US having a border that obviously great swaths of Americans consider to be insufficiently secure, than the Governor of Texas (Texas!) who has been in office for more than a decade (by the way, this criticism goes for Rick Santorum, too). One of these people deals with these issues daily, and has for a long time. One of them does not, and has not. If this were a race for best head of a private equity firm, and Rick Perry came out and argued that he had the best ideas about future buyouts to implement, no offense, but I'd raise my eyebrows at that. I suspect I wouldn't be the only one, either. This is the same kind of thing, just in reverse.
Third, Romney's rhetoric is just downright problematic from a political standpoint. The three states that the Obama team appears to be most concerned about are Nevada, Colorado and Virginia (or so it was as of a couple of months ago). Two of those states obviously have a relatively large Latino population (and yes, many of them are registered to vote and do vote, though exit polling data doesn't always give us as full a picture as we would like about Latino voting behavior). And in Nevada, at least, it's a growing population, too: Per the Wall Street Journal, "Nevada added more than 44,000 voting-age Hispanics [between 2008 and 2010], more than double the increase of 18,000 voting-age whites." Census data meanwhile shows that between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of the population that is Hispanic increased from 17.1 percent to 20.7 percent in Colorado; in Virginia, hardly considered a major Hispanic population center, it increased from 4.7 percent to 7.9 percent over the same period.
Undoubtedly, yes, some of these individuals will not be eligible to vote. However, according to Republican operative Hector Barajas, "Every 30 seconds a Latino turns the age of 18." Some of those will be illegal immigrants, brought here by their parents. But many will be US citizens. And then there is the question of Latinos eligible to vote, but not registered-- a problem that it's reasonable to assume the Obama campaign will look to rectify. Are many Hispanic voters disenchanted with Obama? Sure. But Latinos vote more Democratic than they do Republican, as a matter of course. They also generally loathe a lot of bog-standard Republican rhetoric like some of that which Romney is employing: "illegal alien" seems like a pretty obvious example. Perhaps the biggest kicker here: Polling suggests that Hispanics care deeply about opportunity issues, and education-- really the policy focus of Texas' version of DREAM, which Romney is attempting to bludgeon Perry with-- is one of those.
My original problem with Romney is, and has been since 2006, RomneyCare. I think it is bad policy; he obviously disagrees, and interestingly, it seems to be literally the only issue I can immediately think of where he hasn't flip-flopped.
The way he has gone after Perry on Socal Security also irks me. On the one hand, should Romney find himself in the White House, I worry that he may have a harder time moving on entitlement reform (which I suspect will continue to be a fiscal necessity) than I would like. On the other, even as he currently depicts himself as the great defender of Social Security, if he gets the nomination, that will not stop Democrats from depicting him as someone whose policies will leave Grandma eating cat food, and Grandpa living in a disused chicken coop, destitute and poverty-stricken.
And there are other reasons I won't get into here why I'm just not sold on the guy.
But Romney's positioning on trade and on immigration and immigration-related areas of policy I find especially irksome and problematic. And I find what Perry has to say very appealing.