Coulter-Romney vs. Levin-Gingrich
Over the past few weeks, a controversy has been brewing between conservative commentators Ann Coulter and Mark Levin over the relative fitness of frontrunners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.
In her columns and TV appearances, Coulter has been stumping for Romney and stomping all over Gingrich. On his syndicated radio talk show, Levin has been denouncing Romney as a non-conservative and bolstering Gingrich as a flawed but superior alternative.
The tiff echoes Coulter’s endorsement earlier this year of Chris Christie, before he insisted he wasn’t running, and Levin’s dismissal of Christie as a RINO. In both cases, Levin has expressed contempt for the “Republican establishment” trying to decide the GOP nominee, though it would be hard to characterize Coulter as part of any establishment.
Coulter’s endorsement of Romney is a bit puzzling, when one recalls her animosity toward John McCain and her tongue-in-cheek threat to campaign for Hillary Clinton if McCain got the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. Coulter argued then that Republicans do not win elections when they run moderate candidates, because such candidates appear ideologically weak against genuine leftists such as Obama. On the contrary, because this is a center-right country, Republicans win when they run unapologetic conservatives such as Ronald Reagan, who offer a contrasting alternative to the Democratic candidate.
Coulter has reconciled this apparent contradiction by arguing that McCain was consistently moderate or center-left. In contrast, Romney has flip-flopped and been inconsistent, but has switched from liberal to conservative positions.
Levin claims that Gingrich has a stronger track record as a conservative than Romney, including the former’s efforts to get the first Republican majority reelected in the House in 68 years and his implementation of welfare reform. Levin warns that we can’t trust Romney to go to bat for conservative principles, given his spotty past.
I sympathize greatly with Levin’s frustration that we can’t seem to find a strong, consistent, articulate conservative this election cycle who’s willing to run, doesn’t have heavy personal or political baggage, and can maintain a double-digit showing in the polls. I worry whether anyone we nominate—Romney, Gingrich, or someone else—will consistently stand up for conservative principles once president.
I’m no Romney fan, and I empathize with those who claim his major virtue is his electability. However, the more I think about Coulter’s argument—or rather, my take on it—the more I think she’s right, but with one major caveat.
As Coulter explained to Sean Hannity recently, the most important thing we need our next president to do—among the many Democratic messes that have to be cleaned up—is to repeal ObamaCare. The GOP can’t get rid of ObamaCare without a Republican president, unless they have a supermajority in the Senate, a majority in the House, and no Republican defectors. None of this is guaranteed. A Senate supermajority will be especially difficult to achieve, perhaps even more so than putting a Republican in the White House.
As Coulter noted, ObamaCare must be repealed as soon as the 113th Congress and the 45th president are sworn in. One of the many compromises/blunders Congressional Democrats made in order to ram ObamaCare through was pacifying voters with a phony claim that the bill would save money over the next 10 years; they did so by having ObamaCare taxes kick in starting in 2010 but most benefits not begin until 2014. This gave the GOP a leg up in getting the bill repealed—but it gave them only so much time. Coulter predicts that once people start collecting their “treats” and federal insurance starts crowding out the private market, the bill will never be repealed.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments for and against the ObamaCare individual mandate in March; however, it is not certain that the court will find the provision unconstitutional, or that Congressional Democrats won’t find some way around the ruling.
Thus, if the most important thing for the next president to do is to repeal ObamaCare, then I would paraphrase William F. Buckley, Jr. and recommend that we vote for the most electable Republican who will repeal ObamaCare. Assuming that all seven contenders would repeal it—and all have credibly pledged to do so—and that Romney is the most electable candidate, this suggests we go with Romney. Other issues are important—but not as important as repealing ObamaCare.
The situation recalls moderate Republican Scott Brown’s battle against Democrat Martha Coakley for the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s seat in November 2009. Brown’s win in liberal Massachusetts, and his swearing in as the 41st GOP Senator—the one needed to block Democrats’ supermajority—was seen as a referendum on ObamaCare, because Brown had sworn to vote against the House’s version of the bill. (Democrats cheated by using budget reconciliation to meld the Senate and House bills, but that’s another story.)
Brown ran on a platform of promising to vote against ObamaCare. As I wrote at the time, Senator Brown could propose “a bill using Medicare funds to subsidize partial-birth abortions for illegal Islamist immigrant tax cheats with Al-Qaeda ties, and he would still be Republicans’ hero for having voted down the health care bill.”
Similarly, Romney could be squishy on all kinds of issues, and conservatives would still be grateful—as long as he repeals ObamaCare.
But here’s the caveat: Is Romney in fact the most electable Republican? Will RomneyCare, and the fact that Obama cited it as a model for ObamaCare, do him in? Will Romney be more electable than Gingrich, who formerly supported the individual mandate on a national level?
For those who find some issue other than ObamaCare more important, or are willing to risk not having it repealed for the satisfaction of running a preferable but less electable candidate, my arguments won’t be persuasive.
But for those who think that the #1 priority of the next president should be undoing ObamaCare, Romney’s electability is the pressing unknown that must be discovered.