… and unfortunately, it was a big one.
As most readers of yours truly know, I have never – ever – supported TARP (a.k.a., the bank bailout), and I have gleefully cheered TARP opponents going down in Republican primaries. There are reasons for this beyond schadenfreude. For starters, because I still believe TARP was a bad idea that did more damage to our economy than is generally known, to say nothing about the damage to democratic accountability. Secondly, if the Republican Party is to be seen as the party of limited government, it cannot nominate supporters of that corporatist boondoggle. To do so makes the GOP look hypocritical – at best – and feeds right into the left’s assertion that the right cares about nothing but big business and Big Money.
So I have fervently insisted TARP backers will get no quarter from me…except when it came to Election 2012. I departed from the script, and endorsed Mitt Romney (a TARP backer) when there were still three TARP opponents in the race (Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul).
My explanation for this comes down to four words: I made a mistake.
Looking back, my reasons for switching gears and supporting Romney are laughable. His performance as a candidate began to deteriorate nearly from the moment I praised it. His well-thought out views on the Chinese Communist Party dissolved into soundbites once the nomination was secure (oh and as an aside, “borrowing money from China” is not an automatic anti-Communist marker; the CCP is buying up our debt due to its own export-driven policies, and has nothing to do with our need to borrow).
Finally, although I steered clear of the “electability” argument, those who didn’t should look back and recognize why I did. Can anyone really say Rick Santorum would have been raked over the coals more than Romney over social issues? I doubt it – but Santorum would have been better prepared to defend himself. Anyone’s concerns over Gingrich’s character flaws melted under the heat from the Romney straw-man the Democrats set aflame. Dr. Paul was quite possibly the only one in the field who improved as a candidate and politician as the campaign crawled forward.
In the meantime, though, the aforementioned Romney straw-man was greatly aided by Romney’s support for TARP – and when he found a running mate well-respected on the right who also backed the bailout (Paul Ryan), the ticket’s fate was sealed. A nominee who talks about limited government without criticizing that $700 billion boondoggle simply can’t deliver the message effectively – in part because voters (especially low information voters) can’t believe them (keep in mind that 53% of voters in 2012 preferred government be smaller. Over one in ten rejected Romney-Ryan).
All sorts of Republicans and conservatives made a slew of mistakes in this election cycle. They need to own them, but I need to own my mistake, too: I backed Romney for the nomination – and I shouldn’t have. I’m not sure who would have been the right choice as our nominee – but I have to acknowledge Mitt Romney was the wrong choice.
Cross-posted to Virginia Virtucon