As voters go to the polls on this Super Tuesday, conservatives are reportedly rallying around former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in an effort to stop Arizona Senator John McCain. Now, there are certainly many reasons to dislike John McCain. I’ve blogged about them here, and my colleague John Samples has raised even more concerns here. But the idea that Mitt Romney is the conservative alternative baffles me.
For example, one would expect a conservative to be opposed to government-run health care. But, as governor, Romney signed—and still says he supports—a health care plan virtually indistinguishable from the one put forward by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Romney’s plan, like the Democratic plans, includes an individual mandate, heavy insurance regulation, middle class subsidies, and a bureaucratic new pooling mechanism. Like the Democrats, Romney believes that goal of health policy should be “universal coverage.” So far, his plan has not only failed in that regard, but it has limited consumer choice, cut reimbursements to providers, driven up insurance premiums, and run deficits of $150-$400 million.
And, one would expect the putative conservative alternative to want to cut government spending. But Mitt Romney has called for spending an additional $20 billion in corporate welfare to bail out the auto industry. He wants to increase farm price supports. He supports George Bush’s Medicare prescription drug benefit and calls for more federal education spending. Indeed, he wants the federal government to buy a laptop computer for every school child in America. Like George W. Bush running in 2000, Romney has not called for cutting or eliminating a single government program—and we know what that meant for a Bush presidency.
Romney has also abandoned the conservative belief in free trade. As my colleague Dan Griswold has written, Romney has adopted a protectionist bent, taking up the “fair trade” mantra, and worrying about the threat to jobs from India and China.
And, while he now talks a good game on taxes, his record as Massachusetts governor was mediocre at best. The Cato Institute’s annual governors' report card gave him only a “C,” noting that he raised business taxes and fees by some $500 million.
This is not to say whether McCain or Romney would be a better choice for conservative voters. But it does raise questions about what it means for the state of modern conservatism when Mitt Romney becomes the conservative savior.