Why Romney's Panicked Campaign May Pander Even Harder to the Far Right

Election '16

Mitt Romney, a corporate takeover executive in the private sector, is now in full political makeover mode as he campaigns for president, starting with his attention-deflecting choice of radical U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate.

Washington insiders recognize the symptoms of a panicked campaign and see that the attempted makeover is not complete—and won’t be until the Republican National Convention adjourns and the fall campaign begins. And so we are seeing seemingly bizarre musings from known GOP ideologues trying to fill in Romney’s blank pages.

The latest example from this not quite stage-managed spectacle is the emergence of Grover Norquist, the GOP’s longtime anti-tax crusader, now saying the Romney-Ryan pronouncement that the Pentagon budget must be protected from Democrats’ cuts is wrong, because, like anything big in government, there’s excessive spending, waste and fraud to be cut—even in the military.

Does this make Norquist a peacenik? No way.

What’s really going on is that Republican opportunists like Norquist—and he is as bare-knuckled and conniving as they come—have their agendas. There are different factions on the right with differing domestic and international agendas. Norquist’s anti-tax and anti-spending crusade does not stop at America’s shoreline.

In 2008, the McCain campaign’s opposition research bluntly stated, “Romney has no foreign policy experience.” He doesn’t. Ryan also has no real-world foreign policy experience, although he is deeply sympathetic to the esoteric camp of right-wing intellectuals who combine libertarian economics with isolationist foreign policy.

Let’s remember that Norquist, who famously said he would like to shrink the size of government so it could drown in a bathtub, would see a trimmer military as consistent with fewer overseas commitments and leaner domestic federal programs. The big question is how susceptible Romney will be, faced with a sinking campaign, to GOP opportunists such as Norquist who are trying to push him further to the right.

On Monday, Norquist made a calculated move at the Center for the National Interest, formerly the Nixon Center, by attacking the ever-shifting Romney-Ryan budget as not doing enough to cut military spending. That caused a stir on the political right and the left. 

“We can afford to have an adequate national defense which keeps us free and safe and keeps everybody afraid to throw a punch at us, as long as we don’t make some of the decisions that previous administrations have, which is to overextend ourselves overseas and think we can run foreign governments,” Norquist said.

The backdrop was Ryan’s House budget, which, as ForeignPolicy.com pointed out, provides for increasing military spending and doesn’t specify any defense contracting reforms.

“Other people need to lead the argument on how conservatives can lead a fight to have a serious national defense without wasting money,” Norquist said. “I wouldn’t ask Ryan to be the reformer of the defense establishment.”

Norquist’s latest anti-spending screed comes right from the isolationist libertarian wing of the GOP, whose best-known advocate is their presidential candidate Ron Paul. But actually, there is a deeper bench of hard-right intellectuals and what Norquist surely knows is that Ryan is more than sympathetic to this esoteric camp.

In other words, now that the Tea Party darling and House GOP budget-cutting leader can be counted on to promote the dismantling of federal safety nets that have evolved since the 1930s Great Depression, the question is how far right-wingers can influence a lesser-known of the Romney campaign’s blank slates—on foreign policy.

The answer, according to Ken Kersch, writing Tuesday on the Balkinization blog, is quite a bit. Apparently, there is a cohort of American hard-right adherents to what’s known as the school of “Austrian economics,” which seeks to defend capitalists from government oversight and also would reel in foreign commitments. He writes:

Two qualifications. First, the fact that Paul Ryan’s political philosophy has been strongly formed by these Eastern European intellectuals doesn’t mean he subscribes to everything they say. And, second, there’s no denying that there has always been a home-grown form of Red-White-and-Blue anti-statism and penchant for work, markets, and business. Still, something about the tone and style of Austrian economics, it could be argued, make it distinctively Eastern European. If Obama is a European-style socialist (though I doubt it…), then devotees of Austrian Economics are European-style anti-socialists.

Continuing, Kersch connects the underlying dots between Ryan, Norquist and the continuing makeover of the Romney campaign.

There are lots of ways to be an American anti-socialist. But the case can be made that Ryan -- deer-bagging and fish-gutting notwithstanding -- has made of himself a highly ideological Eastern European anti-socialist. In the process, he may have jettisoned some good old (can-do, pragmatic, anti-ideological) American values along the way. Might real Americans deserve better?

In 2000, George W. Bush invited corporate executives to Austin, Texas to lunch and to discuss what they might like from a Bush presidency. That big money fawning by then-candidate Bush tied up the early donors and sealed his nomination, as well as told his patrons exactly what they could expect from him—as their agenda became his.

Fast-forward to today, when the Romney campaign emerged weakened from a bruising primary, where right-wingers correctly knew that his record as Massachusetts governor was even more liberal than anyone in the GOP establishment wanted to admit—pro-choice, anti-guns, pro-gay, raising taxes, and more, according to McCain’s research.

Romney, the corporate takeover executive, was smart enough to know that his campaign needed a makeover. Enter Ryan as the vice-presidential choice. But the GOP’s vacuous and detail-averse nominee also telegraphed to insiders that his campaign wasn’t just troubled, but susceptible to pressure and lobbying.

Thus, within 48 hours of naming Ryan, one of DC’s most opportunistic Republicans smelled blood and made a calculated move to push Romney toward a more isolationist foreign policy by breaking from the GOP orthodoxy of never cutting the defense budget.

But will Romney’s need for a makeover lead to a full-blown takeover by arch right-wingers, such as Norquist? Such behavior, though it seems like political inside ball, is even more reason to keep this contingent of Republicans away from any lever of power.  

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