The 2012 Republican presidential primary feels more than a little surreal. A friend once told me the political gig was “like living in a Salvador Dali painting.” He’s right. From Sarah Palin’s appalling reality show, to Herman Cain’s bizarre 9-9-9 plan and tales of womanizing and sexual harassment…this election season is precisely why establishment types turn to each other and wonder aloud, “the conservatives are bitching about us nonstop – but Palin/Cain are their idea of a solution? these are the folks they think can turn it all around?”
Three hundred million people in the United States and this is the crop of folks the Tea Party and Conservatives served up? Seriously? I have met far more interesting, compelling, authentic conservatives and Tea Partiers at my local farmer’s market and at my PTA meetings.
Instead we have Santorum, Gingrich and Romney.
Former Senator Rick Santorum had a narrow win in Iowa. Mitt Romney bested former Speaker Newt Gingrich and Santorum with an impressive double-digit win in New Hampshire. South Carolina went solidly for Newt Gingrich, after a smackdown with CNN’s debate moderator John King. Three contests, three winners and an increasingly fractured Republican party.
The Florida primary is hours away from being decided and it looks like a tight, but solid win for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
Conservatives are an interesting lot. As a reminder to folks who may be visiting this site for the first time, I’m not a conservative. I am a Republican. I don’t care for the hypocrisy I have witnessed with nearly twenty years in this business, by conservatives and liberals. Democrats and Republicans. Activists and consultants. Tigers do not change their stripes. When they go all-in on one issue, or one characteristic, it takes nary a fortnight for hypocrisy to bed them and make a mockery of all the eloquence and advertisements.
I detested former President Bill Clinton’s wagging finger when he declared he didn’t have sexual relations with “that woman.” I feel the same level of repulsion at the “family values” crowd, “conservatives” and anyone who pretends to be one thing, demands it of their competitors, and when the cameras are off – they are first through the buffet line of free booty and booze.
There are still gentlemen and ladies in the business of politics and governance. They exist, not as artifacts to be admired, but as operators and leaders. After nearly twenty years in this business, I still enjoy having a door opened for me. There is an elegance about some people in the business. True gents and ladies, still working for the common good, and somehow unaffected by the cynicism that drives so many to the brink. Not everything from eras gone by is bad. There are traditions and good ideas worth preserving, even as we modernize.
It is no coincidence Newt Gingrich, the historian, is vying for the presidency and finding great success. After all, he is an ideas machine. He presided over a landslide victory in 1994. He has instant recall of details and anecdotes from history that give him a formidable air. He is practiced and studied in the art of seeming invincible, inevitable. He always has just the right level of indignation, he’s able to dial up the perfect retort to conservative and Republican bogeymen. It’s a gift.
I remember Newt Gingrich as a much younger man, a fresh faced Member of Congress in his third term. I was a seventh grader on a trip for those of us who had achieved academic excellence. We left Atlanta by train one afternoon, and the next morning we emerged into Union Station, a breathtaking place that made an impression. As we clutched our luggage and stepped out into the Spring air, the United States Capitol loomed large. It was a moment that changed my life.
Our Congressman, Newt Gingrich, accompanied us on our tour of the US Capitol. He pointed out interesting details in the Apotheosis of Washington. Goodies were offered only to those who could cite the Preamble from memory.
It was a simpler time, long before the internet and social networking dominated our consciousness. Newt was a kindly gentleman who was living the dream. I remember the pictures on the walls in his office as we traipsed through, waiting for our class photograph to be taken on the steps of the West Front. From the experience of touring the Capitol, to dashing around beneath the Lincoln Memorial, my life was changed. With profound gratitude to my parents for making that trip possible, and to my then-Congressman for simply taking a few moments with a large group of bratty kids from his district back home, a career path was illuminated.
With thousands of precincts walked, envelopes stuffed, messaging and speeches written, and three presidents served…I am weighing my endorsement and my vote.
Now a voter in the Old Dominion, come Super Tuesday, I have but two choices on the ballot. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and current lunatic Congressman Ron Paul. The former Speaker of the House claims to want to be president, but couldn’t be bothered to get on the ballot. In the state where he lives. What. The. Hell.
I don’t appreciate the simpering complaints of campaign staffers either. Virginia’s ballot rules are well known. It is always election season here. Even numbered years, it’s Congress and the Presidency. Odd number years, the Governor and other statewide Constitutional offices, House of Delegates and the State Senate. Of all the places I have ever lived, there isn’t a place with more informed and active voters of every persuasion than Virginia. There is no conceivable reason to not be on the ballot here. Newt Gingrich, in the glow of media attention and conservative praise, could not be bothered to get on the ballot.
Yes, I said it again. It bears repeating. Most voters enjoy the predictable photo opportunity at the local precinct, where the candidate and his wife go in together, check in with the registrar and cast their ballots. It’s a lovely vignette of election day but it is also a reminder than one man, one vote is the same for each of us. No ballot is weighed differently than another.
If Newt and Callista go in to their precinct, they will pull a ballot that features Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. Newt did not respect voters in this state enough to make the effort, and so, he can expect the same in return. Apparently, we don’t have enough delegates to matter to him, which is ironic given that he vows to campaign in every state and fight all the way to a brokered convention in Tampa this Summer.
Here’s an anecdote, Professor Gingrich: ask Hillary Clinton how important each delegate is. Ask Al Gore if each vote matters. It may not matter to you but it damn sure matters to me. And every other voter in Virginia.
Of course, Gingrich did make a move to get on the Virginia ballot. He and Texas Governor Rick Perry opted to sue, in federal court, for ballot access. They were rejected. To be generous to Gingrich, let me point out one interesting little fact. Texas Governor Perry’s inability to get on the ballot troubled me most. He counts as a senior adviser and as a spokesman, Mark Miner, a man known to many in Virginia. Once upon a time he was Chief of Staff to a sitting Virginia Governor. He was a Communications Director at the RNC. If anyone knew the rules in the Old Dominion, it was this guy. He served Perry’s presidential bid about as well as he served former Governor Gilmore. It is a shame, as Governor Perry is one of the nicest men I have ever met. In the real world, when you fail to achieve any of the objectives for which you are hired: you lose your job. Unfortunately, plenty of folks fail upwards in this business and that’s why we have the problems we have.
Ultimately, a Federal judge tossed out their lawsuit. He noted they waited too long to challenge Constitutionality. (Read: just because your staff failed to get you on the ballot doesn’t mean you get to toss out the rules)
Newt couldn’t get access to the ballot, even with Perry’s help. So instead he has the endorsement. Goodie for him. I sure hope he has a better strategy for all the other states voting on Super Tuesday, March 6th.
Newt Gingrich sent a message: votes in Virginia do not matter. It’s a disappointing and petty set of choices that led him down this path. In the end my vote, and many other votes, will now go to Mitt Romney. But it’s not just my vote, it will be my rolodex. And my pen. My keyboard. Everything. The choice is clear when I consider the Virginia Ballot.
Former Governor Romney will have my vote on March 6th. He will have my enthusiastic support. At our local Super WalMart and grocery stores, there were folks gathering signatures to get on the ballot. His staff was pleasant and friendly. There was a sense of purpose.
And here is where I discuss my thoughts on Mitt Romney. For some years, I have been skeptical of him. I was unimpressed and thought him a little too clean, a little too Stepford, a little too good to be true. Turns out, I was wrong about him.
Mitt Romney is a good man. He loves his family, his wife and his country. He is a good manager and a great businessman. He’s a problem solver. He does not grandstand, nor is he bellicose. He’s a team player. He’s a hard worker.
Mitt Romney is steady, competent. And above all: he is presidential. He is dignified. These are necessary qualities to being a good president and inspiring leader.
As I recently noted, with a quote from French philosopher Michel de Montaigne: “He who establishes his argument by noise and command, shows that his reason is weak.”
Former Speaker Gingrich has tapped into the anger, into the rage many feel towards President Obama, or liberal policies enacted by Speaker Pelosi during the first two years of the Obama administration and the last two years of the Bush Administration. People want to feel their leaders connect with them and Newt does that well.
But that is not the same as leading.
Mitt Romney has character. He’s true to himself. He really is that nice guy with the great wife, the great kids, and the great job. He’s the guy who mows his neighbor’s lawn when they are out of town. Ann Romney is that neighbor with the uncanny ability to drop by with a casserole or brownies, just because. Theirs is the house where the kids congregate because it’s a happy, safe environment.
That matters to me. I want to know the person I vote for is more than just a great campaigner, a great wordsmith. I want to know the person I vote for has some character. My daughter’s generation will cast their first ballots for president this year. What kind of man will lead the nation as they take their first steps? As they discover Union Station and the US Capitol?
The presidential portfolio is complex. The domestic issues always find a way to dominate, predictably. But when our nation faces a crisis, as we do with economic concerns in Europe or additional earthquakes rocking Japan, or the extreme volatility in the Middle East and continued war crimes, starvation, and horrors in Africa…the President of the United States must be solid. Steady. Competent. Unflappable. Grounded.
On the ballot in Virginia, there is only one such man. Mitt Romney.
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