After 10 Years, It Is Truly Mitt Night in America…
And so it came to pass. The epic goes unfinished. Troy did not fall. Turnus was not slain. Thus another story came to be. The White Whale escaped. Gatsby is dead…or at least his political career is.
Today former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney announced he would not seek his party’s presidential nomination in 2016. Amid disinterest from some Republicans and defections to other candidates (principally Jeb Bush), Romney likely realized the path to the nomination and thence to the White House was not to be. News accounts say Mittens was confident he could win, but felt it was time to give others a chance.
Ever the chameleon, Romney had begun to shift his campaign toward income inequality and poverty two years after the infamous 47% video that damaged his 2012 campaign. As The Boston Globe observed, there had been some momentum in the last week making the U-Turn somewhat odd. Even without being the race, Romney and his legacy casts a shadow over the GOP field.
One less “establishment” candidate may aid Jeb Bush. However, Bush, suffering from his family’s political legacy (more so than Hillary Clinton does from her husband’s), will still have competition from a centrist(ish) contender, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Four years ago, Romney’s inevitability, despite the conservative grassroots allergy to him, leaned heavily on his being the only establishment candidate. Even without Romney in 2016, the GOP is more likely to nominate a Ted Cruz or Mike Huckabee (2.0) than in 2012. Others like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who can boast 3 election wins in four years, has some complex liabilities in the general election.
Romney’s Western Massachusetts legacy may foretell a problem for Walker even if he may benefit from Romney’s exit more than Bush. Romney practically disowned his own state in the 2008 and 2012 elections, and Massachusetts gladly returned the favor. But Romney was an early forerunner of an idea that made Walker famous.
During Springfield’s financial crisis a decade ago, Romney called for a suspension of collective bargaining rights for city unions. Barely into his second year as governor, it may have been an early sign of his presidential ambitions, tuned conservative audiences (as opposed to his healthcare law, which was intended to highlight his bipartisan bona fides).
For those who do not remember (or do not know), Massachusetts’s third largest city was in a fiscal tailspin in 2004 following years of reckless financial decisions and administration. Cuts to local aide in 2003 and 2004 were the last straw. Rather than accept receivership, which would have gutted local home rule as opposed to merely diluted it, the city turned to Beacon Hill.
Both Romney and the legislature were uninterested in a cash bailout. Under Massachusetts’s home rule amendment, for the legislature pass its own rescue package independent of City Hall’s specific request, Romney needed to submit a proposal first. Passage required a supermajority, but lawmakers were free to ignore the governor’s proposal and write the law as they saw fit. Romney included the union-busting language in his recommendation.
Accounts differ, but some say the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature nearly accepted the suspension. Alarmed statewide labor officials intervened and the provision was removed. Romney line item-vetoed the multimillion dollar stabilization loan to the city, ostensibly on the basis that the city could never repay it without the union suspension. The legislature restored the loan.
Nearly seven years, later, Walker succeeded where Romney failed, but Walker had a GOP-controlled legislature behind him. Yet history has shown that the path Massachusetts took to resolve a financial crisis (if a local one), could be just as effective without being nearly as divisive.
The Finance Control Board delivered tough medicine to Springfield and fiscal realities forced unions into less than ideal contracts, but the right to bargain endured. As the Control Board and its governing law evolved under Deval Patrick, new municipal financial regulations were established as a buffer between fiscal realities and the promises of politicians. So far it has worked as intended.
Romney’s failure to strip collective bargaining rights, in effect proved Walker wrong. A major fiscal crisis brought on by past excesses was resolved without abrogating a human right yielding a similar or better result. Complaints about the Springfield Control Board remain, but most center on whether the city should have given up local control to solve the crisis, a debate confined to the what-ifs of alternative history. The anger is nothing like what Walker provoked.
No matter what President Obama’s approval rating is in 2016, Republicans will run against him during the election. Yet a nominee whose claim to fame was institutionalizing divisiveness in his home state may have problems after Republicans spent eight years of accusing Obama of the same.
Moreover, Walker has little to show for taking this path. Wisconsin’s political polar opposite, but otherwise similar neighbor, Minnesota, took the opposite path. After rejecting the conservative goodie bag (via its Democratic governor’s veto) and then launching a progressive agenda (upon the election of a Democratic legislature in 2012), Minnesota boasts a far better economy than the Badger State.
Romney’s departure relieves the GOP of another establishment candidate, but like Romney, does Bush really have that new candidate smell? And what other lessons from Romney’s legacy may prove problematic for the rest of the field?
In any event, Romney’s time has passed. His pathological need to be elected goes unfulfilled. Partly due to his opponents’ weakness, Romney only won two of the five races he contested. Years of flip-flopping undermined his authenticity. Massachusetts saw this first hand from his 1994 senate run against Ted Kennedy to his presidential runs, each one reinvention after another.
If that was unfair, the opportunity to correct it is gone. The book is all, but closed on his political career. Whether history is kind to him or not remains to be seen, but he shall not be the one to write it.