Politics & Policy

Michigan Calling

What's next for Mitt Romney.

National Review endorsed Mitt Romney around before Christmas, and so around here the question has come up since his loss in New Hampshire last night: What does he have to do to win the Republican nomination? And so National Review Online asked some editors, reporters, and friends (not necessarily Romney endorsers themselves) for their thoughts.

Mark Hemingway

Romney has to win Michigan. The best way to do this would be to sell a message of economic turnaround, given the state’s depressed economy. McCain’s strong on issues like defense and reforming Washington — but Michigan voters will want to know how the candidate can help them given their dire economic predicament. As a native son with a reputation as a guy who rebuilt troubled organizations, Romney might be in a better position to appeal to Michigan voters than McCain.

If he can win Michigan, Romney can then point to the fact that he a) has won a large swing state that looks a lot more like America than the media fish bowls of Iowa and New Hampshire and b) has received more votes than everyone else and leads in the delegate count — thanks to his two second-place finishes and Michigan victory. That will make him look like the front-runner again.

But he has to win Michigan, and that’s gonna be a tough race for him.

– Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.

John Hood

Many have already found it easy to ridicule Mitt Romney’s “silver medal” spin on the Iowa and New Hampshire results. But what is truly ridiculous is how the media spinners treat primaries and caucuses as if they were basketball games, where all that matters is the win. That’s just not true. The cumulative scores are what counts, not the individual win-loss record. Admittedly, Romney spent a lot of money for months in Iowa and New Hampshire, and didn’t come in first (he spent a lot less money in Wyoming, and won). He came in a few percentage points behind the winners, but ahead of all the others. It is premature to count him out.

Obviously, Michigan is critical. A week from now, if Romney can manage to come in first in his home state, he’ll have outperformed every other GOP candidate, taken a significant lead in the delegate count, and move into position to contest South Carolina. As telegraphed in his concession speech, Romney will underline his economic message in Michigan, which has lagged the rest of the country in job creation and economic vitality.

The obstacles are daunting, however. Let’s face it: Romney is just not as exciting a political personality as McCain, Huckabee, Clinton, or Obama. If voters are voting on personality rather than issues and competence, he won’t be their choice this year. And the compressed time frame limits his options (I suspect another week’s campaigning may have changed the New Hampshire margins quite a bit). Still, I get so annoyed by the notion that primary wins by a few percentage points, with the totals in the 30s, are “decisive” and “devastating” and such. Uh, calm down. Lots of other Americans are still waiting to vote, if you don’t mind.

John Hood is chairman and president of the John Locke Foundation.

Seth Leibsohn

This broken-boned, 71-year-old war hero said he could out-campaign anyone, and he did. So on to Michigan, where it’s a semi-open primary — which makes McCain’s chances good, if he keeps campaigning hard. He is propelled there by his win in New Hampshire.

As Rich posted last night, McCain campaigned on issues of “character, restoring faith in government, victory in the war in terror, respect for opponents, service to a cause greater than self, patriotism.” One could run on worse things. Much worse.

The Romney challenge in Michigan is that the economy is in the tank and the jobless rate sky-high, as the Detroit Free Press reports. Does that bode well for a multimillionaire businessman or better for Huckabee’s populism and McCain’s message about wasteful spending? The challenge is that if Huckabee strikes the populist tone again, and McCain goes hard on the war, character, good government, and the ability to beat any Democratic nominee, Romney’s challenge becomes all the greater. He can do it — he’s a great workhorse — but it’s tougher now than Iowa and New Hampshire have been.

Seth Leibsohn is a fellow at the Claremont Institute.

John J. Miller

A victory in Michigan would change everything for Romney, and he should address the state’s top concerns. Two weeks ago, a front-page story in the Detroit News observed that Michigan was one of just two states to lose population in the previous year. The headline blamed a “prolonged economic slump” and a prominent quote complained about a “one-state recession.” Romney would be wise to present himself as a can-do executive who understands Michigan because he grew up in it, loves Michigan because he keeps returning to it, and knows how to fix Michigan because he has spent his life building businesses and creating jobs in the private sector. He could also say that he’ll protect the Great Lakes from the Sunbelt states that want to steal its waters to propel their own growth. Finally, Michigan is crazy for its sports teams. Romney might say something about how he saw the 1968 Detroit Tigers bring people together during a time of urban unrest and give them hope — and how the 2008 Tigers appear to show a lot of promise, too, especially after the big trade for Cabrera and Willis. Is there a picture of a teenage Romney wearing a baseball hat with the old-English “D” on it? If so, everyone in Michigan should see it.

– John J. Miller is NR’s national political reporter.

John O’Sullivan

There’s no magic bullet for Mitt or any other candidate in this campaign — or probably in any other campaign. He has fought two tough battles and come an honorable second in both. He has made no major gaffes. He has pretty decent and well-thought-out policies on all the major issues. And as far as one can judge, he is more in tune with broadly conservative voters than any other single candidate.

So why didn’t he win?

Well, why didn’t McCain win or even place in Iowa? Why did Mike Huckabee come a very poor third last night? Why did Obama — whom the media anointed as the patron saint of a new political age — suddenly come from ahead to lose last night?

It can’t be flip-flopping. They all flip but only some flop. It can’t be likeability. The two most unlikeable candidates won last night. It can’t be that there is some subterranean political trend that the winners are surfing while the losers are sunning themselves on the beach. The plainest political trend in the two primaries so far is variability — or, as the candidates would probably put it, “change.”

Hillary surfed this particular trend to success by being the first person to jump on the wave before the music stopped. She cried, the crowd sighed, and the moderator said: “I’m afraid that’s all we have time for.” Whereupon those independents who hadn’t been able to vote for Hillary crossed into the GOP tent and helped McCain to surf his mini-trend to victory. Move the contests a day forward or backward and you might well get a very different result.

So far, victory or success has been largely accidental for the five or six front runners. As the contest goes on, however, the voters will gradually get a real (or at least a better) sense of what the candidates are really like.

A good test is: How did the concession/victory speeches sound? Both results test and reveal character. Remember Kipling: “If you can meet with triumph and disaster/And treat those two impostors just the same.” Well, John Edwards reminded me of a Mahler symphony, “The Interminable.” Obama gave his victory speech which showed a certain overconfidence, perhaps laziness, and certainly an inability to strike the appropriate note. McCain was rambling and ungracious. Hillary, though over-long, hit one or two home-runs — for instance: “Well, you are not invisible to me,” and will clearly be formidable. And Mitt gave a thoroughly personal, winning, and gracious speech that completely undercut his image as a corporate zombie.

Anyone watching all five — and I didn’t see Mike Huckabee — might not necessarily go away intending to vote for Mitt. But he would certainly go away respecting and probably liking him. So my advice to him is: Stay in the game and let the people know you. If you win, fine; if you lose, you’ll still have half a nation of friends.

– John O’Sullivan is NR editor-at-large.

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