Saturday, 15 September 2012

Romney Fumbles as Presidential Election Shifts to Foreign Policy

Until September the US election was firmly based on economic issues, which gave a big advantage to Republican challenger Mitt Romney.  Romney, a successful businessman, was seen as highly competent on the issue and he picked as running mate Congressman Paul Ryan, Chair of the Budget Committee,  and well known for his stringent financial plans.  Ryan was seen as a highly competent choice for second in command. He was a sharp contrast from Sarah Palin, the previous unqualified VP candidate,  and he appealed to the same base.  Continuing attacks on Romney for what former Republican Candidate and Texas Governor Rick Perry called "vulture capitalism" did not appear to stick.  Americans love a winner and it sure looked like the wealthy Mr. Romney was a winner despite Bain Capital.

It did not take long until the top issue shifted, first to abortion where Paul Ryan's record in Congress  linked him to another Congressman, Todd Aikin.  Aikin spoke nonsense on the issue forcing Ryan to back off from his views where he had previously distinguished violent rape from other rape.  He had to disavow Aikin and join the chorus of people saying "Rape is rape".  That issue hurt the Romney campaign and accentuated inconsistencies between Romney and his running mate. Romney, who used to be Pro Choice, continues to believe in some exceptions to a ban on abortion.

Then came the Republican Convention in Tampa which coincided with a hurricane.  Hurricane Isaac turned out to be a lesser problem than the tempest caused by Clint Eastwood's on stage performance with an empty chair, that was ridiculed and turned into the convention highlight.  This again hurt the Romney campaign which had hoped that the convention would leave Americans thinking that Mr. Romney was human and a nice guy.

To make matters worse for Romney the Democratic Party Convention in Charlotte ran like clockwork and was a huge success. Much of the credit goes to former President Bill Clinton whose clear analysis of the contradictions in Republican/Romney/Ryan policy gave a big boost to the Obama campaign.  This too hurt Romney's chances.

Then the Middle East once again came back into the forefront.  Romney's long time personal friend and former business associate, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to help Romney by attacking Obama in his own attempt to push the USA to war with Iran.  Opinion in Israel on what to do about Iran is split now so it should not be thought that Israelis in general want to attack Iran with a pre-emptive strike. Attacking Iran now also runs contrary to general public opinion in the US. Most Americans believe after Iraq and Afghanistan that another war is something to be avoided.  Again this was something that did not help the Romney campaign. The Netanyahu situation was overshadowed by protests in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere against the US because of a poor quality anti Islam video found on YouTube.  This video was sponsored by the same little church that caused trouble in the Muslim world before by its plans to publicly burn Korans.  As the film was made in the USA it was hard for people in the Middle East countries with little history of free speech or democracy, to understand that such a film could be released without US Government approval.

After the protests began the US embassy in Cairo issued a statement condemning the video. The Romney foreign policy test was then failed as the former Massachusetts Governor made strong and untimely statements criticizing President Obama for what Romney called an "apology for American values".  This action by the Republican candidate occurred just after the Libya protest in Benghazi was overtaken by well armed Al Qaeda professional terrorists who launched a rocket attack on the US consulate killing the American Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in the building.  This tragic event was followed by continued Romney attacks on Obama for his supposedly submissive approach to terrorism.  It was generally agreed even by Republicans and Conservatives with foreign policy experience that Romney's criticism was completely inappropriate.  The President responded by deploying military forces and taking steps to go after the persons responsible for the Libya attack. The net result was President Obama has been seen as a calm, reasonable and tough leader in protecting US interests. 

It appears to me that Candidate Romney is continuing his attempts to prove he really is a Conservative and not a "Massachusetts moderate" as his former rival Newt Gingrich had called him.  It was generally expected that Romney would move to the middle after his nomination to try to appeal to independent swing voters.  When Romney appeared on Meet the Press on September 9th and talked of what he liked about Obamacare it looked like he was going that way.  Conservative voters who continue to mistrust Romney (especially on the healthcare issue) were thought to have nowhere else to go. Some have moved to former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson who is a consistent candidate who dropped out early from the Republican Presidential nomination race and who is now the Libertarian Party candidate. There is no question that Governor Romney will lose votes to Governor Johnson in the same way that Al Gore lost votes to Ralph Nader back in 2000.

The latest Romney attempts to be tough and join his friend from Israel in pushing for war with Iran has certainly backfired.  He has already moved from Jingoism to following the advice of more experienced Republicans towards being more conciliatory and keeping quiet on foreign policy issues.  As a candidate he is now flailing suggesting that Obama will tell lies in the upcoming debates. None of this shows Mr. Romney to be "Presidential".   It now appears that the recent events, with the Clint Eastwood performance as the turning point have greatly improved Barack Obama's chances for re-election. Polls show the incumbent President pulling ahead by a large margin thus reducing the number of swing states that could have given Romney a chance to be elected. Meanwhile the economy has become a lesser issue and it continues to improve.  Four more years? It sure looks like it now.

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