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.
“I do think Romney is exceedingly well suited to this particular moment and what it requires,” says Yuval Levin, editor of National Affairs. “What’s needed is basically the modernization of the American economy, and especially of the American public sector, and that kind of modernization to improve efficiency and better suit a failing enterprise to the demands of a competitive economy is what Romney has always done well.”
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.”