For the issues running up to November in Current Affairs, we’re going to be taking a thorough look at the US Elections. We’ll have features on the incumbent, Barack Obama; the potential Vices; and key states as the day comes ever closer. But who better to begin with, we thought, than the man who wants to get himself in the chair: the indomitable Mitt Romney.
Perhaps more than any other general election in a democratic nation, the election of the President of the United States of America draws the eyes of the world and, by extension, the eyes of the press as an event to be observed and commented on and, more often than not, criticised.
Having accepted the Republican Presidential nomination at their recent Florida conference – beset by Tropical Storm Isaac, read into that what you will – he is now the bona fide challenger to Obama’s cushy gig at the White House. So what’s his story? Most of us have had a potted history of the man, but potted histories generally do well to sum people up. Middle-upper class background; member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, otherwise known as Mormons; father George ran for the Republican nomination in ’68 but lost it to Richard Nixon; missed the anti-Vietnam war movement since his father, US Ambassador to France, had moved the family to Europe. He was a management consultant first but left to found private equity firm Bain Capital, over which there was some recent dispute as to his tax return forms. His first successful Government position was as Governor of Massachusetts, and now he has done what his father could not: he has won the Republican nomination for President of the United States.
It does not take a parsing of such a history to see why his loyalties lie where they do. Romney, in the great tradition of American politics, is an incredibly privileged man. His refusal to release more than one year of tax returns can only mean that he has been avoiding paying the rate that the law dictates, and his call for tax cuts for the wealthy comes from an atavistic, familial desire to see people from his way of life continue to do well.
But he is nothing if not equivocal. As Governor of Massachusetts, he enacted healthcare reform that was likened by some to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, but he has promised to repeal that act if he becomes President. However, he is fiercely pro-life and seems to care little for the financial support of institutions such as Medicare, and other social security programs.
However, it seems that what might have been Mitt Romney’s greatest hurdle, his religion, has been overcome through a mixture of keeping quiet and the American people’s focus on other issues. The great winner and loser of elections in this age is one word: economy. Whilst Bill Clinton might be able to lay claim to having put its importance so succinctly and eloquently, gone are those heady post-Cold War days where dreamers and internationalists were destined to win elections. Jobs creation, debt reduction and fiscal growth are the watchwords of today, and Romney holds startlingly good credentials in the eyes of the American people. He is an experienced businessman, he believes in a harsh-but-fair approach to getting America back on its feet, and he believes that hard work is the key to all that the US has become, up to the point where it has – in his eyes – lost its way.
He is a graduate of the Reaganite school, and even the Thatcherite and Cameronian schools, in that he plugs the appetising message that we all just have to pull our weight and things will turn out fine. Obama, on the other hand, is of the school of Carter, Callaghan, Hollande: the less enticing message that slow growth through public spending, to create jobs and help layabouts not to starve, is the way out of the current mess. His running mate Paul Ryan is nothing if not a team player; another libertarian businessman who sees his job as helping people to make money as easily as possible and removing the Government’s sticky fingers from around the neck of hard working businesses and people.
So what are his chances of winning? A recent Gallup poll currently puts Obama’s chances of winning the election at 47% and Romney’s at 46%. The President’s approval rating is at 43% and his disapproval rating is at 46%. The problem for Romney is that his opponent is not doing abysmally. The advantage is that he is not doing nearly as well as he would like. More than likely to emerge as an election result in the vein of Nixon vs. Kennedy, Carter vs. Ford, this will be no landslide, unless something quite drastic occurs in the next two months. But despite all that, Mitt Romney still stands rather a good chance of being President. He is classic Presidential material, he has the kind of rhetoric that the American people like to hear, and he has the one advantage that always means he has the better chance of winning: he isn’t the guy who’s been messing things up for the last four years.
Next Issue: Running Mates
Image Credit: Gage Skidmore