Wednesday, March 2, 2016

If Mitt Romney Wants to Reset the Race

Will Mitt Romney's forthcoming speech on the GOP race in 2016 change the fundamental dynamic of the race?  Endorsing a candidate might change the dynamic of the race (depending on the candidate), and declaring himself a candidate in some form would definitely change it.  However, if Governor Romney's speech simply attacks Donald Trump personally, that will likely not change the current dynamic: the Republican and conservative establishments entering DEFCON 1 and using every effort imaginable in order to derail Donald J. Trump.  As Super Tuesday shows, that dynamic might not be enough to stop Trump.

Barring a major endorsement or getting in the race himself, Romney might have the greatest chance of resetting the primary by making a bold call to the non-Trumps to champion policy reform that addresses populist concerns.

An evolving consensus has suggested that, if any of Trump's rivals hope to be able to supplant The Donald and win in November, they would be wise to trumpet policies that will provide opportunity to the aggrieved and forgotten.  (See, for instance, these recent efforts by Dean Clancy and Reihan Salam.)  Common ground can be found between the populist insurgency and many key conservative principles, and, if Republicans hope to win in November, they likely can't afford to alienate middle-American populists.  The fact that Trump has won in states across the country shows how powerful pro-disruption sentiment is.

As a person congenial to the establishment but also someone who ran as an immigration hawk and proponent of trade reform in 2012, Romney has the ability to speak to both camps in the GOP.   The current dynamic seems as though it could rip the Republican party apart.  Governor Romney could radically shift the dynamic of the race by laying down a policy marker and calling for the GOP to target the concerns of those who feel voiceless.  A speech advancing a policy-reform pivot could include something like the following:
We have seen over a decade of stagnating incomes for middle-class Americans, many of whom feel left behind and poorly served by the powerful.  The economic decline of the past eight years has exploded our debt--yes--but it also makes it harder for our nation to fulfill its promises to the elderly and the sick.  Barack Obama's presidency has clearly failed the middle class and the average American.  Too many are shut out of too few jobs.  Too many paychecks have shrunk.  Too many of those with a good work ethic have been shoved to the economic sidelines. It's time for our party to reach out to those who are justifiably upset with all these failures and champion policies that address their concerns.
We need to fight to end Too Big to Fail.  We need to take steps to stop guest workers and illegal immigrants from undermining American workers.  We need to reform trade so that we stop rewarding unfair competition from abroad.  We need to champion health-care reform that, unlike Obamacare, doesn't trap people in higher premiums and fewer choices; Republicans can offer a vision of health-care that defends choice while also ensuring that medical care is available to all Americans.  We need tax reform that helps working families get ahead and save for the future.
I call on all my friends still running for president to address these concerns not just with press releases, talking points, or insults.  Instead, I look forward to seeing a rigorous debate about policy specifics in the weeks ahead.  Americans have a lot to be upset about, and we owe it to them to think seriously about how to solve some very real problems.

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