Back to Bachmann
Knute Romney is not going to win one for the Gipper.
It's deja vu all over again: as in 2008, the two frontrunners are not conservatives. The recent National Review editorial, despite reading as if it were written by a committee, was nonetheless correct. Newt is not a conservative. It's easy enough to count the ways, but there is one albatross that's particularly heavy and odoriferous: his tie with Freddie Mac.
The $1.6 million is not just part of his baggage -- of which he has more than the Partridge family on tour. "It's the economy, stupid" may be a motto for the ages, but it's going to be particularly spot-on in 2012. This election should be a referendum on the four-year recession. Blaming high unemployment, anemic growth, a swooning stock market and a moribund housing market on Bush, "deregulation," and the 1% may not play with informed voters, but we're a minority and this is going to be BHO's theme song. Let's not forget that Roosevelt -- the brilliant con artist whom Newt admires -- was reelected in 1936 with an unemployment rate of about 17%.
To win on this issue, the GOP needs someone who can connect the very large dots in the mortgage and credit meltdowns of 2008. That means, to shift metaphors, someone who can point to the fingerprints of the feds and quasi-government agencies. Someone who can talk about the role of the SEC, following Basel II, in lowering leverage requirements for investment banks in April of 2004. About Clinton weaponizing the CRA and, later joined by the Bush administration, pushing banks to write all those "No down payment? No credit? No problem!" subprime loans. About the facilitator Fed keeping the federal funds rate below 5.25 since 2001. (It's now .08. No bullets left there.) But above all he -- or she -- needs to be able to talk about Fannie and Freddie.
Let's stipulate that bankers are greedy. Always have been, always will be. But the great deterrent to greed is always risk-aversion. When lenders were able to move the bad loans off their books, the risk was gone. The too-big-to-fail twins Fannie and Freddie obligingly bought the dubious loans (Congress had decreed that 55% of their portfolios should be low-end mortgages), which were then sliced and diced and resold to investors as innocuous-sounding CMOs with AA ratings. Banks were securitizing like mad on their own, but only F and F's paper had the rating that would tempt smaller investors. The pair wound up with 70% of the nation's 27 million low-quality mortgages. Obama has already pumped about $150 billion to keep them afloat; they've lost some $226 billion since 2007.
The Democrats were the enablers of Fan and Fred. In the name of "affordable housing" and eliminating "red-lining," they pressed them to take on more risk and shielded their corrupt and incompetent directors from scrutiny. The Dems wanted, in Barney Frank's memorable phrase, to "roll the dice." Barney should have been the Willie Horton of 2008. Everyone in the country ought to have known his name. But the winner of the Fan-Fred give-away sweepstakes was the junior Senator from Illinois. Obama received more money per year from the two scammer GSEs than anyone in Congress.
Unfortunately, just as McCain was not able to eviscerate Zero on this issue because he'd been one of the Keating Five in the S & L debacle of the 1980s, so Newt, the lobbyist of Freddie, is going to have to tiptoe around the 2008 train wreck.
The albatross hanging around Mitt Romney's neck is even more obvious and just as smelly. What's alarmed the country most about the Community-Organizer-in-Chief is ObamaCare. The last thing Americans want to do is to entrust their bodies to the guys that couldn't catch Bernie Madoff when the evidence was dumped in their laps, that run the P.O., that were defrauded out of more than 40 billion last year by Medicare providers and patients, that are still not sure why Nidal Hassan killed all those soldiers at Ft. Hood, that grope seventy-five-year-old grandmas at airports, that think it's a cool idea to sell guns to Mexican drug lords.
Mitt does have an advantage over Newt here. He wasn't reimbursed for RomneyCare. He can still renounce it. So far, he's defended it with a quasi-state's rights argument. It's something governors can experiment with if it seems popular, but not something the feds should mess with. He has to admit it was abysmal failure in Massachusetts, and will be everywhere else.
Supporters of Newt and Mitt often make their cases on pragmatic grounds. Each is the most conservative candidate electable -- Newt because of his debating prowess, Mitt because of his appeal to independents. It's fun to watch Newt -- he's sharp, acerbic, and candid. Who else would have made his on-the-money observation about the Palestinians? And Mitt's organizational skills are impressive.
But "electability" is something that's not easy to predict.
Is it determined by current poll numbers?
There's a story about a pollster for an opposition candidate in an African country being told repeatedly, "When your guy is the Big Man, then I'll vote for him." This is the logic of not voting for someone because they're trailing the front-runners.
Even if you were dead certain you knew who could beat Obama in November, which means who will stand up to a full-bore media assault this fall, there's a case for supporting the most conservative candidate to make sure his or her positions frame the debate. Even Carter could not avoid talking about tax cuts and Clinton about welfare reform when conservatives set the agenda.
In the end, if you believe that conservative principles will resonate with most voters, you'll go with the most principled conservative. If not, you may as well go with the guy closest to the middle of the road, someone who will not frighten the "undecideds."
So who to vote for?
It's tempting to support the candidate who will vaporize entire government agencies (and knows which ones he wants to vaporize), someone who will balance the budget and audit the Fed. But Ron Paul apparently believes that everyone in the world is very much like the guys who are his core supporters -- smart, reasonable, utility-maximizing, thirty-something programmers from Los Gatos. It's hard to vote for someone so delusional.
Jon Huntsman has the same problem as George H. W. Bush -- nice c.v., no principles.
Rick Sanctimonious is attractive in many ways, if sometimes offputting in his manner. But his position on illegal immigration is abysmal. This has to be a litmus issue for conservatives. You can't support the values of this country and support a demographic change that undermines them, and that has so many costs for workers, schools, and hospitals. Perry flunks on this ground, too, whatever his other merits . Then there's Santorum's 16-point loss in his last run for the Senate, worse than McCain's deficit in Pennsylvania, and Perry's well documented record of crony capitalism.
This leaves Michele Bachmann. Yeah, she's only been a two-term Congresswoman. Yeah, she foolishly repeated a rumor about the vaccine Perry mandated. But the fact that the media is still frantically trying to Palinize her tells us something about her credentials. She's more solid than the rickety Ricks.
If Newt can rise from the dead, Michele can, too. At least in the primary elections, we should be willing to vote for someone without first having to swill Pepto-Bismol.