Will it be Marco? Or New Mexico governor Susana Martinez (twofer!)? Will he be a Washington outsider, as Sarah Palin was? Will she be? Will Team Romney double down on the economics theme and go with Ohio senator Rob Portman, former director of the Office of Management and Budget? Interest in the veepstakes seems more intense than usual this year because of a general sense of unspectacularness about Romney, or so the narrative goes — the notion that Republicans have “settled” on a nominee they aren’t really excited about and thus need to add some spice at the bottom of the ticket.
But this is to miss the central story: that Mitt Romney may indeed be the man of our national moment. America is looking for someone who can articulate a realistically optimistic vision for the future and start to turn things around: Someone who can take us out of our national funk — which Washington has not been making better, but worse — and get us back on track, and then some.
In 2010, the electorate was unhappy and demanded change. Even demographic groups that had traditionally voted Democratic — perhaps most notably women, given recent and perpetual Democratic claims — gave the GOP a try. But there’s only so much you can change when the president’s not on the ballot. And in 2012, the causes of discontent — unemployment and economic uncertainty — some of which are the direct result of the current president and his policies, remain. With those and other issues on the table — religious liberty most alarmingly — this election could be bigger than 1980, with just the right man with just the right skill set to be a transformational leader.
Jay Cost, author of the forthcoming book Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic, adds: “I think the biggest lesson Romney should take from Reagan is the latter’s singular focus on restoring American greatness. Reagan’s campaign was like a laser-guided missile that focused entirely on the issue of the economy. This helped him win the election . . . but it also gave him a real mandate to implement his tax-cut plan in the summer of 1981.”
Reagan faced a cold war, hyperinflation, and a slowdown in productivity growth. Still, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, observes that on “balance Romney has a better setting. But he has to express belief in America and govern accordingly.”
“Reagan not only talked about his belief in America, he governed with a quiet confidence,” Holtz-Eakin recalls. “He was willing to draft bills . . . not punt to Congress, and got Democratic cosponsors on key bills including tax cuts and spending reforms. This showed he was sure his ideas were both right and broadly accepted. Romney needs to do that as well.”
Romney has the clarifying issues of liberty and stewardship: Will our children and grandchildren still live in the kind of nation our ancestors came here for? “Four years ago,” Romney said last week in his victory speech after winning five primaries, “Barack Obama dazzled us in front of Greek columns with sweeping promises of hope and change. But after we came down to earth, after the celebration and parades, what do we have to show for three and a half years of President Obama?” Romney continued: “Because he has failed, he will run a campaign of diversions, distractions, and distortions. That kind of campaign may have worked at another place and in a different time. But not here and not now.”
The bills are coming due, and Americans may have lost patience with the recklessness of those who ran them up.
With the right policies and some inspiration, a President Romney could “spur entrepreneurs, manufacturers, the rest of the private sector, and the American people to new heights,” observes Al Felzenberg, presidential historian and author of The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn’t): Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game. Not through “stimulus” but through unburdening Americans of a federal government enlarged when we can least afford it. “Reagan had it right when he suggested that when they put their mind to something, there is nothing the American people cannot do. ‘We are, after all, Americans,’ he would say.”
Mitt Romney is a candidate whose record and rhetoric suggest he might just know what he’s doing. Surely his running mate will help articulate his vision, but the No. 2 is only that. There is hunger out there for an election that will make a huge difference for the better in our national life. “Winning the future,” to borrow a phrase, is not only possible. It’s our duty. The resources are there, and the leader is there. It’s time for America to choose.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through United Media.