Mitt Romney

David Warsh: Romney for president in 2020?


Utah Sen.-elect Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate.

Utah Sen.-elect Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate.

A thoughtful reader wrote last week to remind me of a column I wrote in September 2013.  He had made a note then to revisit Creating a New Responsibility five years on, after the 2018 mid-term elections.

First he quoted the last paragraph of the piece,

And in the longer term?  My guess is that Tea Party dissidents will lose ground in  the midterm elections next year; that the GOP will split in the 2016 campaign and that a Democrat will be elected president; that in 2018 the Tea Party will further fade. And by 2020, the Republican governors who are successful in implementing the Affordable Care Act will be running for president, strongly, on the strength of their records.

And then he wrote,

Things haven’t played out exactly that way, but the Tea Party is fading in many respects.  (To what degree is Trumpism a version of Tea Partyism?)  But assuming the [BostonGlobe isn’t over-editorializing its news, ACA is becoming more popular, and you may well be right regarding 2020.

It is very useful to be reminded of one’s hits and misses.  I immediately thought of “The Accidental President, ‘‘ a column I wrote 10 days after the 2016 election. That remains the way I understand the outcome of that dismal campaign, despite Hillary Clinton’s determination to pin her defeat on Vladimir Putin instead of the Congressional Republicans who forced FBI Director James Comey to write his famous letter.

I thought, too, about “Double or Nothing’’ from last summer, in which I declared my conviction that Trump would not run again. With a hat-tip to EP’s faithful copy editor, who first voiced the thought, I stand by that one, too.  It is even more apparent now that Donald Trump can’t hope to win re-election. He should take his marbles and go home to obloquy in New York.

(The copy editor now believes Trump will run again, having become addicted to the attention. He may be right, but in either case, as long as the Democrats can field a candidate, there will be no second term.)

And 2020?  With Ohio Gov. John Kasich out of the running, the only Republican governor who fits the bill is former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, now representing Utah in the Senate, the man who initiated the approach to the insuring the uninsured that, under President Obama, became the Affordable Care Act. A hat-tip to Utah for that, too.  Certainly Vice President Mike Pence is not what I had in mind, even before he was permanently soiled by Trump.

Could Romney defeat Pence in a lightning primary season?  It is anybody’s guess. Who knows what the Republican Party will stand for in the future?  Who knows who the Democrats will put up?  Just a reminder that, for all the talk about how Trump has changed the GOP completely, there exists at least one pathway by which it could change again.

David Warsh, a Somerville, Mass.-based columnist and economic historian, is proprietor of economicprincipals.com.

Romney picks another state

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,''' in GoLocal24.com:

It’s good news that 2012 GOP presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is expected to run  for the Senate from Deep Red and Mormon Utah to succeed the super-annuated Orrin Hatch, who since Trump was elected has cast off much of his self-respect and independence to become a slavish suck-up to the president, rivaling the pathetic Mike Pence in the sycophancy department.

Some readers may remember these remarks by Mr. Romney in 2016:

"Here's what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He's playing the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat."

Mr. Romney, who was a very competent governor and highly successful businessman (helped by being born on third base), will almost certainly win this seat in November in Deep Red Utah. We can expect that he’ll be a thoughtful, well-informed and calm right-of-center voice and will show occasional flashes of political independence.

It may be particularly interesting to see what role he plays in healthcare reform since he signed into law as governor a near-universal-coverage health-insurance system that provided a template for the Affordable Care Act.  But then, much of the ACA had its origins in GOP ideas dating from the early ‘90s and promoted by the Republican think tank and lobbying group the Heritage Foundation. I talked in detail with the Heritage folks about their health-insurance proposals way back then. The proposals included the hated “mandate’’ to buy insurance.

But when the Dems adopted those ideas, the increasingly right-wing Republicans turned against  them.

David Warsh: Thank Utah as well as Mass. for movement toward universal health insurance

The Mormon Tabernacle on Salt Lake City.

The Mormon Tabernacle on Salt Lake City.

SOMERVILLE, Mass.

There is no better example of the  use of the memory hole in the service of doublethink than Republican opposition to the individual mandate that is at the heart of   Obamacare. Requiring all individuals, even young and healthy ones, to buy health insurance through markets was a Republican idea, advanced in the early 1990s in opposition to a single-payer health system.  It was a thoroughly sensible approach to the problem of steadily rising health-care costs, and, as it turned out, the only practicable way to proceed.

I wrote about these beginnings last month. The news that the Republican leadership in the House  plans a second attempt to “repeal and replace” – apparently in the shadow of the president’s tax-reform plans – got me thinking about the subject again.

A couple of summers ago, I spent a pleasant day reading American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church (Public Affairs, 2014), by Alex Beam. Aside from the manuscript of the Book of Mormon, confided to him, in 1843, by an angel named Moroni, Smith left relatively little behind when he died, at age 38, besides a museum containing the mummies of “the Old King Pharaoh himself of the Exodus, with his wife and daughter.”

Otherwise, Joe Smith possessed “pretty much all the weaknesses a man could have,” in the words of the church elder who succeeded him. These included an enthusiasm for plural marriage so robust that it eventually included the wife of one powerful backer and the daughter of another – extensions that ultimately proved fatal. Smith was shot to death by members of a mob in in Carthage, Ill., in 1844.

Instead of dispersing, most of the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fled Illinois  and moved some 1,300  miles through Indian country to the Great Basin of Utah, in a series of epic journeys. There they produced a community of faith that for more than 165 years has successfully preached a powerful gospel at home and abroad. How did the Mormon Church fare so well?

The answer, I knew, was Brigham Young.  I knew this mainly from reading the chapter on Young in The Vital Few: The Entrepreneur & American Economic Progress (Oxford, 1986), by Jonathan Hughes, of Purdue and, later, Northwestern University.  The chapter on Young follows one on another religiously inspired founder of an American state, the Quaker William Penn.  Other chapters portray the lives and works of Eli Whitney, Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, E.H. Harriman and J. Pierpont Morgan; as well as social entrepreneurs Mary Switzer (federal disability services) and Marriner Eccles (the Federal Reserve Board). 

If Smith was the church’s greatest talent, Young was the first Mormon mandarin (following the tripartite schema of Nicholas Lemann). Young was 30 when he first he read the Mormon testament. He was 45 when he took over leadership of the church.  In the great Mormon migration, on foot and by wagon, he produced, Hughes wrote, “a singular masterpiece of organization” –- and a political culture that proved durable.  For an elaboration of this remarkable achievement, the exertions and the foresight it required, see Hughes's book. 

In summary, Hughes wrote:

"In the trek, as in the early settlements, the 'ideological system' was a mixture of private enterprise tempered by cooperation wherever private means did not provide the ends sought by the church leaders. This view of economic organization never left the Mormons. It now pervades the United States….Conservatives, they preside over a most extensive welfare enterprise…. both 'free enterprise' and 'collectivist.'''

That in turn led me to read American Universities and the Birth of Modern Mormonism: 1867-1940 (University of North Carolina, 2016), by Thomas Simpson  It turns out that once things settled down in the Utah Territory– after the “Utah war” of 1857-58, in which the U.S. sent a 5,000-man expeditionary force to pacify the unruly polygamists, and after the four-year U.S. Civil War – Brigham Young authorized the beginnings of a reverse migration of Mormon students to Eastern universities.

This was the same sort of strategy pursued during the same years by separatist Japan under the charter of the Meiji Restoration. Japan sent many students to universities abroad in the late 19th Century and it produced similar results – a controlled modernization that nevertheless eroded the ecclesiastical insularity that it was designed to serve.  Much the same process unfolded in China after 1978 – the Great Leap Outward, as it was known.

Which brings me to my subject, Mitt Romney, governor of Massachusetts, 2003-07, and among the most prominent Mormons in American politics. It was Romney’s administration that took advantage of fortuitous fiscal circumstances to enact a universal health-care system with an individual mandate.  The measure was aimed about equally at citizens who were unable to obtain insurance because of pre-existing conditions and poor people who habitually obtained their health care in emergency rooms. 

The measure proved a considerable success.  The Obama administration saw the opportunity, seized it, and, with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, passed it into law in 2010.  A furious backlash ensued that summer.  The Tea Party midterm election produced a Republican majority in the House.  Positions hardened and the logic of the individual mandate was obscured.

Romney sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 on the basis of his success in Massachusetts, but lost out to Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.).  He tried again in 2012 and this time obtained the nomination, but only at the cost of disavowing the general applicability of his signature reform. Romney promised that were he  elected, he would immediately grant waivers to Obamacare to any state that wanted one, and said he would then set out to repeal the law.  He lost the election by a substantial margin.  Had he bided his time, might Romney might have made a strong run for the Republican nomination in 2016? (He turned 70 earlier this year.) Who knows? Time-biding isn’t easy in politics.

Recently Romney has been encouraged to consider running for the U.S. Senate in Utah, should 83-year-old Republican Orrin Hatch decide to retire. If that happens, Romney might once again become an influential voice for the individual mandate; he could serve two good terms on the national stage. The Utah electorate is apparently becoming a source of surging support for Obamacare in the face of attempted repeal – as might be expected of Brigham Young’s Utah.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who represents Provo and the state’s Third Congressional District, announced last week without explanation that he wouldn’t stand for re-election in 2018, perhaps even resigning his seat – and thus the chairmanship of the powerful Government Oversight Committee – before then. Perhaps  Chaffetz hopes to run for governor in 2020. The Trump loyalist would not be a be a shoe-in.  Recent Utah governors have included two figures of national stature, Mike Leavitt and Jon Huntsman Jr., and the Mormon Establishment that produced them remains a potent source of fresh talent. Less reflexively Red than you think, Utah has suddenly become another of those laboratories of democracy to closely watch.

David Warsh, a veteran business writer and economic historian, is proprietor of economicprincipals.com, where this first ran.

Paul A. Reyes: Jeb Bush has had freebies his whole life

The Republican Party has struggled for years to attract more voters of color. In a recent campaign appearance, candidate Jeb Bush offered yet another useful case study of how not to do it. At a campaign stop in South Carolina, the former Florida governor was asked how he’d win over African-American voters. “Our message is one of hope and aspiration,” he answered. So far, so good, right?

“It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.”

Whoops.

With just two words — “free stuff” — Bush managed to insult millions of black Americans, completely misread what motivates black people to vote, and falsely imply that African Americans are the predominant consumers of vital social services.

First, the facts.

Bush’s suggestion that African-Americans vote for Democrats because of handouts is flat-out wrong. Data from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies shows that black voters increasingly preferred the Democratic Party over the course of the 20th Century as it stepped up its support for civil rights.

These days, more than 90 percent of African Americans vote for the Democratic Party’s presidential candidates because they believe Democrats pay more attention to their concerns. Consider that in the two GOP debates, there was only one question about the “Black Lives Matter” movement. When they do comment on it, Republican politicians feel much more at home criticizing that movement against police brutality than supporting it.

Bush is also incorrect to suggest that African-Americans want “free stuff” more than other Americans. A plurality of people on food stamps, for example, are white.

Moreover, government assistance programs exist because we’ve decided, as a country, to help our neediest fellow citizens. What Bush derides as “free stuff” — say, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and school lunch subsidies — are a vital safety net for millions of the elderly, the poor, and children, regardless of race or ethnicity.

How sad that Bush, himself a Catholic, made his comments during the same week that Pope Francis was encouraging Americans to live up to their ideals and help the less fortunate.

Finally, Bush’s crass comment is especially ironic coming from a third-generation oligarch whose life has been defined by privilege.

Bush himself is a big fan of freebies. The New York Times has reported that, during his father’s 12 years in elected national office, Bush frequently sought (and obtained) favors for himself, his friends, and his business associates. Even now, about half of the money for Bush’s presidential campaign is coming from the Bush family donor network.

And what about those corporate tax breaks, oil subsidies and payouts to big agricultural companies Bush himself supports? Don’t those things count as “free stuff” for some of the richest people in our country?

It’s also the height of arrogance for Bush to imply that African Americans are strangers to “earned success.” African-Americans have been earning success for generations, despite the efforts of politicians like Bush — who purged Florida’s rolls of minority voters and abolished affirmative action at state universities.

If nothing else, this controversy shows why his candidacy has yet to take off as expected. His campaign gaffes have served up endless fodder for reporters, pundits, and comics alike.

Sound familiar?

As you may recall, Mitt Romney helped doom his own presidential aspirations by writing off the “47 percent” of the American people he said would never vote Republican because they were “dependent upon government.”

In Romney’s view, they’re people “who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

Sorry, Jeb. The last thing that this country needs is another man of inherited wealth and power lecturing the rest of us about mooching.

Raul A. Reyes is a lawyer  and columnist based in New York City.Distributed by OtherWords.org. 

 

David Warsh: U.S. party politics in our more perilous times

harvey "Anti-Drone Burqa,' by ADAM HARVEY, in the show "Permanent War: The Age of Global Conflict, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, through March 7.

SOMERVILLE, Mass.

Why is the race for the Republican presidential nomination shaping up the way it is?  On Friday Mitt Romney ended his bid to return to the lists after only three weeks. It’s clear why he got out:  the Republican Establishment that supported his candidacy in 2012 has switched to backing Jeb Bush.

But why did he get in? We know something about this, thanks to Dan Balz and Philip Rucker of The Washington Post.

One issue that seemed to weigh on Romney was the Jan. 7 terrorist attack in Paris on the Charlie Hebdo publication. Romney talked about the issue with close advisers the night before he declared he would seriously consider running. “Paris was the biggest of all the factors,” the Romney associate said. “It was a tipping point for him about how dangerous the world had become.”

That sounds more than plausible. Romney spent more than two years as a Mormon missionary in France in the late 1960s.

We don’t know much yet even about the reasons that Jeb Bush has stated privately for deciding to enter the race, despite, for instance, this illuminating examination of his involvement in public-education issues in Florida, where he was governor for eight years. It seems a safe bet that his motives eventually will turn out be similar to those of Romney, stemming from his family’s long involvement in US foreign policy.

If you listen carefully, you can hear tipping going on all around.

For my part, I was deeply surprised to find myself thinking aloud in December that, as a centrist Democrat, I might prefer Bush to Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016. I expect to read several books and chew plenty of fat over the next few months figuring whether that is really the case.

It’s not simply that I expect that the path to the nomination would  require Bush to rein in the GOP’s Tea Party wing – all those space-shots meeting late last month in Iowa – an outcome to be devoutly desired, but not enough in in itself to warrant election. More important, it is possible that Bush would promise to bring the Republicans back to the tradition of foreign-policy realism that was characteristic of Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford and George H.W. Bush, and bring future Democratic candidates along with him. That would be something really worth having.

To the end of thinking about what is involved, I have been reading Overreach: Delusions of Regime Change in Iraq (Harvard, 2014), by Michael MacDonald, professor of international relations at Williams College.  It is a brilliant reassessment of the opinion-making forces that led to the American invasion of Iraq, an aide-mémoire more powerful than Madame Defarge’s knitted scarf  for all its careful comparisons, distinctions and citations.

The conventional wisdom has become that George W. Bush all but willed the invasion of Iraq singlehandedly. There is, of course, no doubt that the president was essential, says MacDonald. For one reason or another, Bush positively hankered to go to war. But he had plenty of help.

For one thing, there were the neoconservatives.  By 2000, they more or less controlled the Republican Party.  MacDonald put the emphasis less on policy makers such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld than on the extensive commentarial behind them:  Journalists Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan at the Weekly Standard and the New American Century think tank, the long-dead political philosopher Leo Strauss (nothing neo about him) his and latter-day acolyte Harvey Mansfield, of Harvard Law School, and Bernard Lewis, an historian of Islamic culture, to name the most prominent.

For another, there were the Democratic hawks. The Democratic Party itself divided into three camps: opponents (Sen. Edward Kennedy, former Vice President Al Gore, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi); cautious supporters (Senators John Kerry ,Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton); and passionate supporters (Senators Joseph Lieberman, Diane Feinstein, and Evan Bayh).  Former Clinton adviser Kenneth Pollack made the argument for war in The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.

MacDonald discounts the theory that the oil companies argued for war, with a view to obtaining control of Iraqi reserves.  But he credits the argument that Israel and the Israeli lobby in the United States strongly supported regime change.  And the pundits, ranging from Thomas Friedman of The New York Times to Michael Kelley of The Atlantic to Max Boot of The Wall Street Journal, as well as the editors of The New Yorker, The New Republic and Slate.   Economic Principals, whose column you are reading now, was a follower in this camp.

 

At first the war went well.  The U.S. captured Baghdad, Saddam fled, and Bush staged his “Mission Accomplished” landing on an aircraft carrier.  But after the apparent victory began to melt away, MacDonald writes, those who had supported the war for whatever reason united in what he calls the Elite Consensus designed to shift the blame.

The war should have been won but it was poorly planned. There weren’t enough U.S. troops. Defense chief Rumsfeld was preoccupied with high-tech weaponry.  Administrator Paul Bremer was arrogant. The Americans never should have disbanded the Iraqi army.  The Iraqis were incurably sectarian.  The Americans lacked counterinsurgency doctrine. The whole thing was Bush and Cheney’s fault.  And, whatever else, the Elite Consensus was not at fault.

In fact, writes MacDonald, the entire intervention was based on the faulty premise that American values were universal.  Regime change would be easy because Iraqis wanted what Americans wanted for them:  democracy, individualism, constitutional government, toleration and, of course, free markets.  Some did, but many did not.

Breaking the state was easy; liberating Iraq turned out to be impossible. Instead, MacDonald notes, the always precarious nation has turned “a bridge connecting Iran to Syria.” Meanwhile, Russia is annexing eastern Ukraine, over its neighbor’s attempts to break away from Russian influence and enter the economic sphere of the European Community. It has become a much more dangerous world.

Hence the dilemma facing Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, if either or both are to become presidential candidates in 2016. Can they back away from the proposition that has been at the center of American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War – as Michael MacDonald puts it, that we are the world, and the world is better for it?

David Warsh, a longtime business journalist and economic historian, is proprietor of economicprincipals.c0m

David Warsh: Health economist reaps whirlwind from his irony

Irony – the tendency to underscore a point by stating the opposite of what is meant – has been the downfall of many an advocate.  It’s an often powerful technique. In political speech, though, it is prone to backfire, because it can easily be taken out of context. It’s more dangerous than ever in the age of YouTube and opposition research. Accept that “oppo” has greatly damaged the effectiveness of Jonathan Gruber, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the economist who in 2004 framed the financial strategy that, over a twisted course, led to the adoption of the Affordable Care Act, in 2010.   Gruber is a leading healthcare expert, much in demand.  For two weeks he’s been at the center of a firestorm because of three video clips in which he seems to give comfort to enemies of Obamacare.

The story of how investment adviser Rich Weinstein, angered because he was forced to search for a new policy under terms of the ACA (he found one),  turned amateur sleuth, searching through hundreds of online videos, radio interviews and podcasts to find three damaging ones, makes interesting reading. We owe it to reporter David Weigel, of Bloomberg Politics.

The ACA requires those who don’t receive health insurance benefits from their employer or from the government to buy their own insurance, much as licensed drivers must purchase automobile insurance, with government subsidies for health insurance for those who earn less than a certain amount.

According to Gruber, the bill was written in a “tortured” way to avoid describing its mandates as taxes.  He told a health care conference at the University of Pennsylvania last year that ''Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage, Call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.''

 

Gruber was being ironic.  Addressing an audience of healthcare professionals, he meant that, for good reasons or bad, in extending insurance to those who couldn’t afford it or even obtain it, that Americans had done the right thing.  Sleuth Weinstein found two other clips in which Gruber seemed to buttress Republican argument that insurance obtained on a federal exchange is not eligible for subsidies because the legislation anticipated that all states would form exchanges of their own. Twenty-four states, all with Republican governors, refused to form such exchanges. The  federal government formulated a marketplace in their stead.

Health Adviser Logged White House Visits,” headlined The Wall Street Journal. “Fallout From Gruber’s Remarks Spreads: Economist’s Comments on Affordable Care Act’s Passage Prompt Vermont to Cut Ties, Michigan Lawmakers to Seek Probe.” .

In an editorial, “The Impolitic Jonathan Gruber,” The New York Times came to the ACA’s defense:

''Republicans are crowing over Mr. Gruber’s remarks because he has been portrayed as a major architect of the health reform. In truth, his role was limited.  He had a big contract with the White House to use his econometric model to calculate the financial and coverage effects of proposed measures.  And he was one of thirteen experts who advised the Senate Finance Committee.  His comments should not be taken as evidence that the reform law was hatched in secrecy and foisted on the public by trickery.''

It depends, I guess, on what is meant by “truth.” In truth, Gruber’s role in devising the mandate strategy of the ACA was absolutely fundamental. The idea had originally been proposed in  the early 1990s by the conservative Heritage Foundation as an alternative to Hillary Clinton’s much farther-reaching plans. Gruber dusted it off and broached it in 2004, at the request of then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Romney was in the early stages of preparing a presidential bid.  His plan was adopted by Massachusetts’ s heavily Democratic legislature, with apparent success.

The mandate idea was taken over by the Democrats in the campaign for the 2008 presidential election.  By now a leading expert on its operation, Gruber first advised John Edwards, then Hillary Clinton, and finally Barack Obama on the details of the plan. In early 2010, President Obama relied on Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate to pass the measure into law.

Was it a good idea?  Some Democrats have begun to voice their doubts. Sen. Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.)  said, last week: “It wasn’t the change we were hired to make.” The party should have found a way to raise wages and create jobs, instead of focusing on the uninsured, he continued, whom he described as “a small percentage of the electorate.”

David Axelrod, a close adviser to President Obama in both campaigns countered (in a another story in the WSJ ), “If your calculus is solely on how to win elections, and that is your abiding principle, it leads you to Sen. Schumer’s position. But that’s precisely why big difficult problems often don’t get addressed in Washington, and why people have become cynical  about that town and its politics.”

The ACA will continue on its perilous course in the courts, this time in King vs. Burwell, a challenge to subsidies for those policies obtained from the federal exchange.  The 2016 elections come after that.

With much rule-changing still to be done before the huge medical sector becomes stable, U.S. healthcare reform is like global warming: Further measures are not a matter of if but when.

 

David Warsh, a longtime financial  journalist and economic historian, is proprietor of economicprincipals.com