At which point, British liberal friends say “Who?” and my American liberal friends say “OMG why John, why, we thought you were one of us?”
Because he’s a Conservative American politician and he’s doing between okay and well in the quest to become the Republican presidential candidate this year, despite having hardly any infrastructure or team or funding compared to Mitt Romney. And I’ve met and chatted with him. And, think I get why he’s doing well.
Also. I like going to meetings where people of a different political persuasion speak. “Know thy enemy to defeat him”, perhaps. Or perhaps it’s because an event where everyone agrees with everyone else gets plain boring. Challenge is good, brings debate. Agreement in a like-minded echo chamber brings … sleep?
I’m a European socialist and liberal in the Scandinavian sense – though with some libertarian leanings, especially on defense – who believes in equality. I agree with Rick on not tying a currency to the gold standard; but on just about every other political issue he’s spoken about, it’s disagreement time. Often extreme disagreement. His views are about as opposite to mine as it is possible to get. On contraception, the separation of church and state, taxation, federal medical care, on … just about everything, I can’t agree with him and probably never will, even if he softened his position.
But here’s the odd thing. There’s a part of me that perhaps oddly admires his political journey this last half year, and there’s also a situation where I’d vote for him. Before my liberal friends stop reading and collectively delete me from all social media “friend” or “follow” lists, hear me out.
I met Rick last August in Grinnell, Iowa. It was months before the state GOP caucus, and before the Ames Straw Poll, a somewhat poisoned chalice where the winner gets a brief moment of fame in the media, and then quickly burns out. Michelle Bachmann won that, then plummeted in the GOP polls and quit the race not that long afterwards.
At the time, Rick was on less than 1% in the polling. In the TV debates, he’d be the one right on the side, not getting any questions as the interviewer focused on whoever was the Republican flavor of the month / week / day. His campaign had pretty much no money. However, his style of campaigning involved going from small town to small town, speaking at every small hall and library around. He spent many days “on the ground”, and eventually went to every one of Iowa’s counties. And, unlike Bachmann who also visited every county, but in just a few days and with extremely brief stops in each, Rick took several hours out at each stop to give his speech and answer – in surprising detail and length – questions put to him.
He turned up at Grinnell (the only other Republican candidate who went there was Tim Pawlenty) and I wandered along to the event, expecting there to be a crowd of dozens, maybe a hundred or more people crammed into the room at the public library. Um, there wasn’t – I got there a little early and was the first one. I chatted to his organiser, an enthusiastic and pleasant Iowa student of politics. And a few other people, and Rick turned up. Shook his hand, chatted briefly and awkwardly, I think mostly about Iowa cuisine on which he’d become an expert of late. He picked up on my European-ess, and commented on it.
The room sort of filled a bit, but the attendees peaked at less than twenty, to be outnumbered by the media and Rick’s family at one point. Rick’s style of speaking was to give a long monologue, with no notes, on his campaign, his beliefs, on Obama, on the state of America, on how Europe had gone very wrong (he glanced over at me a few times while saying that; I smiled back) and how America should not go that way.
And his policies, which are now widely known, not just nationally across America, but internationally. I started, then stopped live-tweeting the event, as DMs from British followers were sceptical about whether these were honest tweets (yes) or made up. I’ve never heard rhetoric at an event like it. (Thinks) actually … not true. When living in the Outer Hebrides for half a decade, at funerals and other obligatory community services, the minister would sometimes veer off into fire and brimstone rhetoric. There’s not much as surreal as being at a funeral and the minister informing everyone that they will burn in hell.
And that’s not far off Rick’s message. Which is also that the best status for a woman is barefoot and pregnant, contraception is wrong, anything apart from a heterosexual relationship is wrong, Europeans are lazy which is why their economies are wrecked, Iran should be attacked, and that wealth inequality is a good and necessary thing.
But it was the reaction of the audience that was the most interesting. The older the member of the audience, the more vocal they spoke in favor of, and to, Rick. One lady who must have been 80, if not a lot older, had a mini-rant about the evils of “socialistic Obama policies”. Seniors nodded and muttered agreement when Rick argued for “Obamacare” to be repealed, as I sat there and thought “Hang on; aren’t you some of the main beneficiaries of medicare and medicaid? Especially you there, in the front row, in your federal funded electric wheelchair?”
Rick spoke for over an hour. Then he took questions; any questions, and didn’t duck any. His minder / driver pointedly looked at his watch. Then it finished. One lady who’d been sitting at the back said to him:
“I don’t agree with what you said, but I appreciate you coming to our town and putting your case and beliefs forward.”
Her companion agreed with her. And that’s part of why Rick is popular, and picking up votes, with many people.
- He puts the effort in, and goes to the places which other candidates think are “not worth it”. Locals appreciate this.
- When he’s there, he doesn’t do a five minute script then gets back onto a plane, but talks and answers questions at length. The other candidates don’t, apart from Ron Paul sometimes.
- He’s vocally honest about what he believes in. To the extent that his campaign is unusual. Pick an issue; any issue. Do you honestly know how Mitt Romney will act on this issue if/when he becomes president? No. Mitt tailors his response to the audience and situation. Whereas Rick has probably come out with an unambiguous policy on the issue, even if it is one which most Americans will not agree with.
Those three things add up to the “Protestant Work Ethic” and basic honesty of opinion that appeals to a lot of Americans. Especially in places such as rural Iowa. That’s from Republican voters I’ve chatted to there, and it’s obviously getting him a lot of votes.
It’s also his honesty of opinion – combined with that opinion being extreme on issues such as sexuality – that has made Rick such a controversial person. If you don’t know why, Google Santorum. When you’ve recoiled from this, find out why it came about. This is also why many in the US media are enjoying this, seeing how frequently they can use the phrase “Santorum surge” to summarise his current polling popularity, as well as fronting other innuendo such as this article title. And we thought the Brits were best at smut?
But seriously, it is a bizarre situation, when a candidate says things hostile to a woman’s ability to choose contraception, or even what to do in the most extreme of situations…
…but many women still want to vote for him to be president. This clip from the Daily Show is a good analysis of his frank approach.
So I admire him for his (bizarrely politically suicidal) honesty and his work rate. But at the same time, I am appalled by his policies. After his event, I took a cookie offered by his daughter and went back into the library proper to borrow his book It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good. I managed to get a quarter of the way through it before realising … I just could not read any more. Too much, in a bad way; if Rick became president, it would be bad for America, especially for anyone who wasn’t a rich white male, and bad the world. I wouldn’t like to be a woman, relying on health care and in a low paid job, in Rick’s America.
So there’s a situation where I’d vote for Rick?! I do not believe he will be the Republican candidate for several reasons. The main one being that he is unelectable in the presidential election proper, as independents and lots of other demographics will vote to keep him out. The GOP hierarchy know that Mitt Romney is far more electable against Obama, and will ensure that Mitt is the candidate, no matter what. I’m expecting Mitt to take Michigan and Arizona – the latter by a wide margin – this tuesday, and most of the primaries on Super Tuesday. It’s inconceivable that the wider Republican Party and Conservative coalition will let any other situation occur.
Also, because of his strategy Rick has done well in the caucuses but badly in the primaries. Unfortunately, the contorted nature of the process means that those caucus wins will not translate to many conference delegates (most may go to Ron Paul) and it’s quite possible that come the Republican Party convention in August, Santorum will have “won” many more states than Paul but have fewer delegates (think of them as bargaining chips). There are other reasons, but I’m sticking with my prediction that Mitt Romney will be the Republican Party candidate, and will win the presidency in November 2012. Even though I don’t want that to happen.
So if I was an eligible voter, and if I was in a state with a caucus or an open primary (where you don’t have to be a registered Republican to vote), I would vote for Rick. Not because I want him to win. But because every vote against Romney, and especially every state he loses, destabilizes him a little bit. And Romney, and the supporting SuperPACs, have to pour more of their finite money into the Republican race, leaving them with less to fight Obama in the autumn. Unfair tactics? No. It’s legal, and both parties push the legality of what they can do as far as they can.
But to reassure my liberal chums, if any have not given up in disgust and are still reading this, come the presidential election proper, no matter what there would only be one vote for me (if I could vote):
I still believe in hope. And a Barack Obama, used to the mechanisms of presidency and free from compromising to get re-elected, could have a much more progressive second term than his first.
If he wins in November…