Banking on the White House
Mitt Romney would be the only president born and bred in Michigan. He’s rich, with donors lining up to give him even more money. And he’s spending all of his energy on winning.
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“This nation badly needs leadership. The next election isn’t going to be about offending anybody. It is going to be about what matters. It is going to be the first real election since Nixon vs. Kennedy, and if we screw up as an electorate this time, we will be in real trouble.”
— peter karmanos jr
Four years later, the son followed his father’s lead and “helped” by taking over the scandal-and-deficit-plagued Salt Lake City Winter Olympics Organizing Committee. Nobody argues that he did anything less than a stunning job, erasing a $379-million deficit. The 2002 Winter Olympics went off on budget and without a hitch. By that time, Mitt was well into running for governor of Massachusetts, having deftly pushed aside the bumbling incumbent, Jane Swift. This time, he won.
As governor, he once again closed a budget deficit, and pushed through a controversial plan that provides some form of health care for all citizens, but requires them to pay for it. “I want health care, not Hillarycare,” he said.
“There is no question in my mind that we can get every citizen insured in this country without new taxes and without a government takeover,” he says. Critics in Massachusetts say he lost focus his last year on the job once he set his sights on the White House. When he tried to get more Republican candidates elected in the state in 2004, he failed badly.
Will he be the next president? Talking to Mitt Romney, one gets the impression that he is absolutely convinced that he is by far the best qualified and most skilled man for the job. This comes across less as arrogance than as the quiet confidence of a pro. What matters, he says, is character and ability.
He parries the frequent (and quite correct) charge that he has become much more conservative on social issues than he was when he first ran for office in Massachusetts. Yes, he has changed his position on abortion, he admits.
The rest is overblown, he argues unconvincingly. It’s clear that he knew what it took to win office in Massachusetts, and that it takes something very different to win a Republican nomination for president. And he changed his position. Yet that’s not what we should be looking at, he says. “If you look back at the history of the country, the issues people campaigned on generally turned out to be quite different from the issues that defined their presidency,” he says earnestly — and accurately.
“More important than their view on a particular issue is their character and their capability and their vision and their leadership skills.”
Mitt Romney clearly believes he has them.
So does Peter Karmanos Jr., chairman and CEO of Compuware, and one of Romney’s biggest donors. Karmanos isn’t especially political; he hasn’t been involved in politics before. But he’s convinced Mitt is the real deal.
“This nation badly needs leadership,” Karmanos says. “The next election isn’t going to be about offending anybody. It is going to be about what matters. It is going to be the first real election since Nixon vs. Kennedy , and if we screw up as an electorate this time, we will be in real trouble.”
There is, of course, the Mormon thing.
Fully half the country, a recent Newsweek poll showed, would have great difficulty voting for a Mormon for president. They see the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a cult.
Curiously, the Romney camp isn’t worried. They think this is partly a product of a series of lurid cable reports last year about a sect of renegade polygamists. Aides think that at some point he’ll have to make “The Speech.”
John F. Kennedy made a famous speech to a group of Protestant ministers in Houston the year he was running, in an era when some people didn’t think a Roman Catholic could put the nation ahead of the pope.
He reassured them, and won the election. Most see Mitt, making such a speech at precisely the right time. He will say that he is a Christian, that he believes in Jesus Christ and the Constitution, that religion is a private matter. He will say that those who support polygamy have no more in common with him than David Koresh has with the Methodists.
And then, as he sees it, he will win. Because he worked harder and longer and was more self-disciplined than anyone, and because he was meant to.
What he’ll do when he gets to the White House may not be clear. Except that he’ll try to do it in a way that would have made the old man proud.
Lessenberry is a political writer and Wayne State University professor.