Mitt Romney vastly improved his status in the Iowa debate tonight, if only in comparison to the Republican alternatives. Romney was presidential in appearance and demeanor, which goes a long way. The question for the Republican Party is whether the Tea Party will settle for a lesser role in the campaign or carry the Republican ticket to defeat in 2012. Will Romney have to accept Michelle Bachmann as vice president and swear to uphold the literal interpretations of the Bible and Constitution? That’s what Democratic strategists are hoping for.
But what if Romney runs as a successful businessman, moderate enough to be governor of Massachusetts? What if he defends “Romney-care” with a shrug, and opposes the trillion dollar wars? What if he chooses a certain general to be his vice-presidential mate? And finally, what if he meets the inevitable challenge of explaining his Mormon faith just as JFK defended his Catholicism in 1960 and Obama defended his membership in Rev. Wright’s church in 2008?
If I were Karl Rove, I would be trying to convince the Tea Party to adopt a gradual, lower-visibility approach to conservative transformation, letting Romney be their Trojan horse. The Democrats seem to be counting on the Tea Party destroying the credibility of Republicans with undecided, moderate swing voters, a very likely projection at the moment. But going head to head with Romney could be far harder.
On the other hand, if ever there was a year for a populist campaign against big corporations and Wall Street, it is 2011-12. Romney gave the Democrats the issue they need with his whining claim that “corporations are people too.” Obama, having called out the Supreme Court in his State of the Union address, should immediately assert that corporations need to be regulated so that people can enjoy life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and free democratic elections.
If I were voting as a Republican in Iowa and New Hampshire I would vote for Ron Paul, to boost his status as an anti-war, anti-Patriot Act candidate to keep those issues alive.