We have the Republican nominees for President and Vice President. The platform is final and the convention is in the rear-view mirror. So far, the Romney/Ryan ticket has done just about everything right. So why is it that I find myself and other conservatives still trying to suppress our enthusiasm? We’ve gotten pretty much everything we could have wanted out of this campaign, but many of us are still holding our breath. Are our fears of an impending let down justified? Or could it be that we really do have an excellent ticket, but years of luke-warm messaging and an anti-conservative sentiment from the party elites has us too pessimistic to believe it? Are we setting ourselves up for disappointment or is it finally OK to get excited about this thing? Well, I can’t tell you what will happen in November, but as for my feelings on the Romney/Ryan ticket… I think it just might be time to break out the streamers.
During primary season, I was not sold on Mitt Romney as our nominee. He was not my first, second, or third choice for 2012. Not that I ever thought he was a bad choice, I just didn’t think that he was the guy to take on such an important election. He appeared to lack the conviction of someone like Rick Santorum, the charisma of a Herman Cain, and couldn’t hold a candle to the debate skills of Newt Gingrich. And although I never thought he was the flip-flopper people called him, I didn’t know if he felt passionately enough about anything to put up a fight for his beliefs. Even in the Spring, after he had clearly captured the nomination, I couldn’t shake a nagging suspicion that as the campaign heated up, he was going to let us down. I knew what a smart and capable man he was, but a lot of questions remained about his character. Would he put the same effort into convincing Democrats and Independents that he was a moderate, as he had spent in the previous months convincing us that he was conservative? Would he spend so much time insisting that Barack Obama was a “nice enough guy” that he wouldn’t get around to saying what a bad President he has been? Would he distance himself from Republicans to the point that voters wouldn’t see the difference between a vote for Romney and one for the Democrats? In other words, was he getting ready to John McCain this thing? Thankfully, he was not.
The GOP is notoriously bad at defending itself against attacks from the other side. That was one of the most frustrating things about George W. Bush’s presidency. There were so many times when we knew that the Democrats were distorting his record and smearing him unjustly, but he wouldn’t respond. And while an argument can be made that it is more honorable for a sitting President to stay above those sorts of discussions, the Republicans ran their campaigns the same way. Accusations of a GOP conspiracy to trample minorities, kill off the elderly, and enslave women went unchallenged in election after election. The entire party seemed to have this bizarre philosophy that if they just pretended not to hear these smears, the voters would too. But those of us who live in the real world saw how allowing the Republicans to be painted as a bunch of bigots and greedy CEO’s had made an impression on our coworkers and family members. For some, the only thing they knew about politics was that they would never ever vote for a Republican. So we feared that if a rich, white, up-tight candidate like Mitt Romney wasn’t willing to confront these things head-on, the Republican’s image problem was about to go from bad to much, much worse. Thankfully, he knew that too. Instead of trying to downplay his success, he has used his story to illustrate why he’s the best person to fix the mess we’re in. When the Democrats tried to portray Bain Capital as an evil company that destroyed lives, Mitt Romney highlighted the businesses that were saved, and the multitude of jobs that were created under him. Instead of trying to balance out his dorkiness and penchant for saying “gosh golly” with contrived edginess, he showcased the positive impact that a lifetime of clean-living has had on himself and his family. His straightforward approach allowed him to go from being seen just as a competent guy to coming across as a really likable guy. He’s gotten himself in front of a camera and corrected the facts whenever his record has been distorted. And when his policy proposals have been twisted and misrepresented, he has fought back hard in TV, radio, and online ads. In fact, he has used every lie about his policies as an opportunity to a.) call out the Obama campaign as dishonest, b.) explain his positions in more detail, and c.) contrast his vision with that of the current President. By simply responding honestly and forcefully to attacks, Mitt Romney is leading the discussion on those issues that used to put Republicans on the defensive.
The next big test of Romney the Candidate was who he would select for the VP slot. Not only was it his first major decision as a presidential candidate, but it would be used to gauge where he really stood personally and what sort of people he would fill his cabinet with. Imagine the backlash if Mitt Romney had picked one of the more liberal Republican options instead of the conservative Paul Ryan. Remember, there were even a few pro-choice names thrown around by the press early on. Most of us would have seen that as evidence that Romney was insincere and lacking in character. A very large portion of the Christian and Tea Party vote would have sat this election out altogether. In order to shake the “Massachusetts Moderate” label, it was imperative that Mitt Romney select someone who was an outspoken conservative, both fiscally and socially. And he needed to stand behind him 100%. For a while, there seemed to be an unspoken rule among Republican power brokers that a conservative candidate either had to have a pro-choice wife or a liberal running mate to appeal to moderates. Even the technically pro-life John McCain felt the need to distance himself from his more conservative running mate at every turn. But Mitt Romney has rejected that tactic completely. Although, many may have considered Paul Ryan to be a more conservative person than Romney a few months ago, the two have presented a united message that is pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, pro-marriage, and protects the rights of parents and churches. Instead of using the VP pick to convince voters that he was merely willing to work with conservatives, Mitt Romney used it to prove that he is one.
Beyond securing the support of conservatives, the Paul Ryan pick was a brilliant strategic move in that it took one of President Obama’s biggest weapons away from him. Earlier this year, the White House made it clear that the “Ryan Plan” would be a centerpiece of their bid for re-election. Because it is the highest profile Republican budget plan, it provided the President’s team with an easy target. They were free to paint it as a cold-hearted bill that will kill off seniors and starve the poor, without having to worry too much about a response. After all, what news network is going to be interviewing the Congressman from Wisconsin when there’s a race for President going on? It wouldn’t matter what sort of plan Mitt Romney officially came up with, Democrats would tie it to the Ryan Plan. That would mean that Mitt Romney and his VP would be forced to either explain and defend a bill they didn’t write or distance themselves from it and appear to be retreating from the GOP’s signature proposal. Having Paul Ryan on the ticket does not, as some Democrats claim, draw unwanted attention to the Ryan Plan. It provides an opportunity for the man who is probably better than anyone else in the country at explaining budgets, to defend a really good budget bill. It allows the guy who tore apart Barack Obama’s smoke and mirrors healthcare plan in six minutes to have a national stage. If Mitt Romney wants to be President, he needs someone by his side who can explain the intricate details of finances and complicated legislation to people who only tune into politics once every four years. He had to have a VP who could show, with cold hard facts and figures, the looming debt crisis and what it would take to avert economic catastrophe. And there is no one who can do that job better than Paul Ryan.
After the VP pick, there was no denying that I was excited. I thought the campaign was going much better than expected, and his selection of Paul Ryan gave me even more confidence in both Romney’s character and his odds of winning in November. But even as I was saying to myself, “wow, this is going really well,” I kept thinking “it’s bound to go South at any moment.” And most of the conservatives I know felt the same way. “Things are going perfectly, but any day now he’s going to ‘move to the center’ and start bad-mouthing Evangelicals.” Or “yeah, but just wait until the convention. They’ll probably stick a bunch of liberal garbage in the platform just to even things out.” And then, the official Republican platform was released. And it was good. Really, really good. Freedom Works, a leading conservative think-tank and advocacy group, released their “12 for ’12″ policy suggestions prior to the official GOP platform. Of the 12 points, 11 1/2 made it into the final platform. Just about everything that conservatives could have possibly wanted is in this thing. It includes support for a human life Amendment (also known as a Personhood amendment which states that unborn children are recognized as persons, which entitles them to the same protections as other persons) and legislation to clarify that the 14th Amendment applies to the unborn as well, a defense of traditional marriage, an increase in school choice, an aggressive approach to reigning in Congress’s power to raise taxes, a balanced budget amendment, renewed support for protecting the sovereignty of our courts and legislature from foreign governing bodies, a dedication to protecting the Second Amendment, a commitment to protecting religious freedom in the workplace and public life as well as in private, entitlement reform, defending private property rights, and a commitment to protecting our currency that may even include a return to the gold standard. We really couldn’t ask for much more. As for the convention, despite a tepid first night, it hit all the right notes too. The speakers were unafraid to say what has been going wrong with the country and were equally bold in saying what should be doing. It was not the luke-warm, Democrats-are-nice-guys-too garbage that we are used to getting from the RNC. Clear lines were drawn and almost every speaker made it a point to say “this is what they believe in, this is what we believe in.” They were willing to make fun of some of the more outlandish things that the President has said and done and correct the record on the many lies and distortions that have come from the White House. And Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were no exception. Both of them were direct in calling out the President and the Democratic leaders on their failures and explaining what the two of them would do differently. One of the best things to come out of the convention was their commitment to lead on the fight for reforming Medicare. It’s an issue that Republicans have run from. Instead of trusting that Americans could sort through the facts, they hid from Democratic smears and ceded an argument that they should have easily won. Medicare is bankrupt and Obamacare takes another $700 billion dollars out of it. As Paul Ryan said, “Ladies and gentlemen, our nation needs this debate. We want this debate. We will win this debate.” It’s about time.
Now, I know there is still time for this campaign to fall apart (debate season is just around the corner after all), but maybe it’s time that we conservatives allowed ourselves to get excited. I’m not saying that we go all “Hope and Change” and start crying when we see pictures of Mitt Romney, the last thing I would ever want is to see a cult of personality develop around our candidates. We don’t expect a man, or a couple of men, to save us from disaster and bring happiness and sunshine to all. And we certainly know that, once elected, politicians don’t always live up to their promises. But those things are beyond our control right now, and we do have a lot of things going for us this election. We have two squeaky clean candidates with normal families, without any known scandals in their past. Not even a divorce. That’s a rare thing in American politics. They are willing to defend the traditional values that we hold dear and they seem committed to addressing serious issues like entitlement reform and our impending debt crisis. They are skilled speakers who can clearly explain the issues of the day and make their case to the voters. And they are bringing a boldness that many younger voters have never seen from the GOP before. They aren’t afraid to call a lie, “a lie.” When the President says or does something that is ridiculous, they don’t pretend that it is a different but valid approach, they say “that’s ridiculous.” This is a far, far cry from the approach taken in 2008. That campaign was excruciating to watch. While Barack Obama was accusing John McCain of being an ill-tempered out-of-touch old man whose party wanted to enslave women and starve poor people, Sen. McCain was calling Barack Obama a nice guy with good intentions and a decent-enough plan for America. We knew it was a doomed campaign in July and watching him amble along through the fall was like watching someone commit suicide one papercut at a time. Here we are in September and, other than a minor misstep here and there, this has been a great campaign. And what’s more important, the proposals put forth by Mitt Romney and the platform presented by the RNC give us every indication of an honorable and impactful four years if the Republicans are successful this fall. No, I am not so foolish as to believe that the same elitists in the RNC and Republican establishment who have looked down their noses at pro-life conservatives for decades have magically been converted. I think they are still as ashamed of us as they’ve always been. But, I do believe that the pressure put upon by them by the “Teavangelicals” in the last two years has pushed them to at least pretend that they’re with us now. This is the best the chance that conservatives have had in a long time to have real influence in the agenda of our party and make real changes in Washington. And if the right-wing doesn’t turn out in droves this election, it will probably be the last time for years to come that we have such a chance. The RINOs on top will be all too happy to point out that conservatism failed in 2012 and a more “moderate” approach is in order. This is it guys. Political parties and politicians are certainly not infallible, so we have every reason to expect some disappointment. We can’t possibly know what will happen in November either. But we do know that we have two competent men who appear to be giving themselves the best possible shot at success this fall. We know that we have a good platform and candidates who aren’t ashamed to push for the preservation of traditional values and the implement of bold conservative initiatives. It may not be the perfect ticket, but the last time I checked, perfect politicians were in short supply. For now, we’ll have to settle for two decent guys with a solid plan, who haven’t let us down yet.
So, yeah, it’s OK to be a little excited.