First, Karl Rove’s new book:
Daniel Foster at The Corner:
Karl “The Architect” Rove came by the NR offices this afternoon to talk about his new book Courage and Consequence. The conversation spanned from Social Security reform and Medicare Part D to Iraq and the Surge — all topics on which Mr. Rove’s nimble command of even the finest-grained political and policy details helped frame in light of current political battles.
On the domestic politics surrounding the invasion of Iraq, Rove said he made a “critical mistake” in late 2003 by not squarely confronting what he saw as a calculated and coordinated effort by national Democrats to suggest that President Bush had willfully lied in making his case for war.
“I think they polled it and focus-grouped it,” Rove said, noting that, within days of one another, a half-dozen prominent Congressional Democrats had made public comments suggesting the president lied. But Rove said the campaign was intellectually inconsistent.
“You had Ted Kennedy, for one, voting against the authorization of force and then two days later going to Georgetown and saying Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” Rove said.
“If Bush was lying, so were the 60-plus Democrats who said on the floor of Congress that Saddam had WMD,” he observed.
Rove acknowledged that “we weren’t winning the war for a long time,” but said President Bush was “ahead of his commanders” by 2006, both in realizing that he needed to change course, and in expressing interest in the counterinsurgency strategy of General Petraeus.
On the decision to push the troop surge, “Bush said there are two ways for the military to break, either by over-use or by losing a war, and he said it was more dangerous to lose a war.”
Asked if the administration should have replaced Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sooner, Rove said they began to “quietly find out our other options,” but that it would have been a mistake to “pull Rumsfeld in the highly politicized environment” leading up to the 2006 midterm elections, a move that would have created messy confirmation hearings.
Rove also talked extensively about the Bush administration’s domestic-policy agenda, especially Social Security Reform and Medicare Part D.
Paul Begala at The Daily Beast:
Rove is witty and smart. He likes hunting and loves Texas. If it weren’t for lying us into a war and leading us into a depression, I might even be pals with Rove. And so I opened his book without the level of hostility most of my fellow Democrats might.
At first, he exceeded my expectations for candor as he wrote about his personal life. Your heart aches for him when you read about the breakup of his parents’ marriage, the disorientation he must have felt when an aunt and uncle casually told him he was adopted and thus the man he thought was his father was no biological relation. His account of his first wife leaving him is unflinching and admirably non-judgmental: “She then looked at me and blurted, ‘I don’t love you. I have never loved you. I never will love you.'” Ouch.
He brings the same unblinking style to the topic of his mother’s suicide: “Like her mother before her in 1974, my mother had dealt with life’s punishing blows by attempting suicide. But unlike my grandmother, Mom succeeded. I was stunned when I got the news but at some deep level I had always known she was capable of this. My mother struggled, even in placid waters, to keep a grip on life.”
Not everyone can confront their family’s failings with such frankness. But when the topic switches from the personal to the political, Rove admits no weakness or mistakes. It turns out (spoiler alert!) that the George W. Bush of Mr. Rove’s tale is strong and brave and wise and kind. He is a man—well, that’s unfair, a god, really, or at least a demigod—possessed of valor and vigor, poise and pluck, humor and humility. His description of his first meeting with the future president sounds like something out of Tiger Beat: “George W. Bush walked through the front door, exuding more charm and charisma than is allowed by law. He had on his Air National Guard jacket, jeans, and boots.” This passage works best if, while you’re reading it, you listen to Donny Osmond sing “Puppy Love.”
One wonders if the admiration was reciprocated. Doubtful. President Bush repaid Rove’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel-like loyalty by bestowing a nickname on him. No, not “Bush’s Brain” as the press called him—nor something cool like “M-Kat”, Bush’s name for the ever-fashionable media man, Mark McKinnon.
Matt Latimer at The Daily Beast:
I sat next to him while he shouted on the phone with some poor soul in Idaho over the then-unfolding Larry Craig scandal. As we landed in Nevada, he pointed out, somewhat wistfully, where he grew up. When the president and First Lady gave him a surprise farewell party, complete with red velvet cake, he surprised everyone with his visible emotion. Then, when Bush came into the airplane’s conference room to question the necessity of an upcoming political event, Rove flatly refused to hear him out. “Never give an inch,” he muttered as the president walked off.
That mantra, of course, was the secret of his remarkable success and the root of his ultimate undoing. An effective advocate when things were going his way—such as rallying support for the invasion of Iraq—he proved needlessly divisive when things went wrong. He, and Bush, suggested that conservatives who opposed his immigration proposals were xenophobes, racists, fools, or cowards, earning lasting enmity in the process. He supported big-government conservatism that alienated many in the base, some of whom joined the tea party movement. He failed to articulate a conservative vision in favor of short-term tactics and maneuvers. “They were determined to run a base mobilization, narrow margin victory,” former Speaker Newt Gingrich recently charged, “largely because they were SO uncomfortable with ideas.” The result was one election in which we lost the popular vote, another when Republicans barely defeated liberal John Kerry, and two disastrous elections in 2006 and 2008. President Bush left office with a 22 percent approval rating and the GOP, as Jed Babbin, the editor of the conservative newspaper Human Events once put it, was left “a smoking hole in the ground.” In short, Rove’s approach left the GOP about as popular as the dress Sarah Jessica Parker wore to the Oscars.
And yet Rove still doesn’t seem to have figured it out. He advised Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison to wage last week’s losing campaign against the sitting Republican governor of Texas—wounding both officials and the Texas GOP in the process—to score points in his ongoing feud with Governor Perry. The worst-kept secret in Washington is that his associates are behind many of the anonymous Republican attacks on the current chairman of the Republican National Committee, attacks which by complete coincidence of course always seem to make Rove and his allies come out in a better light. And though he is a useful, sometimes brilliant commentator on Fox News, one hopes that he and his compatriots are not trying to run the network as they ran the White House, by urging bookers to keep disfavored people off the airwaves. One suspects Roger Ailes would not put up with that.
One day soon perhaps Rove, with his love of history, will learn the lesson of the former president he says he reveres. Ronald Reagan kept a sign on his desk that said, “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.” Reagan, at least, didn’t believe in his own greatness as much as he believed in the greatness of the ideas that he stood for.
Karl Rove’s long-awaited memoir of his White House career, Courage and Consequence hits the bookshelves on Tuesday. Rove has quite a rollout planned for it. He’ll have a Ustream launch at noon ET, which I’ll embed earlier in the morning. After that, Rove will join me on The Ed Morrissey Show to discuss the book, following Andrew Malcolm’s appearance, which begins at 3 pm ET.
It’s already generating some of the histrionics and nastiness we saw from the media during the Bush administration. Dana Milbank today lets his wit run, or rather crawl:
As a White House reporter during the Bush presidency, I often worried that I wasn’t getting the whole story. Now, Karl Rove has finally given it to me.
His new book, “Courage and Consequence,” promises to “pull back the curtain on my journey to the White House and my years there.” What he divulges nearly made me choke on a pretzel.
That business about President George W. Bush misleading the nation about Iraq? Didn’t happen. “Did Bush lie us into war? Absolutely not,” Rove writes.
Condoning torture? Wrong! “The president never authorized torture. He did just the opposite.”
Foot-dragging on global warming? Au contraire. “He was aggressive and smart on this front.”
I’ve written dozens if not hundreds of blog posts refuting these claims, but we’ll save that for Rove on Tuesday. (Getting bad intel is not the same as lying, Democrats made the same WMD claims from 1998 forward, waterboarding as performed by the CIA is arguably not torture and Congress didn’t object to it as such at the time, and Bush reduced carbon emissions in the US more than Europe did.) Meanwhile, Hot Air readers can get a jump on sales by placing orders now!
John Hinderaker at Powerline:
I’ve just started the book today, but it’s a fascinating and substantial work. It is well written and copiously annotated; not a casually tossed-off memoir, but a book intended as a serious historical document. The chapters on Rove’s youth are touching, and his discussions of campaign strategy are candid and illuminating. I’m looking forward to asking Rove some questions I’ve wondered about for a long time, like: whose idea was it to retract the “16 words,” a decision that began the downfall of the Bush administration? Tune in on Saturday to learn the answer. In the meantime, anyone who wants to understand politics in our time should read Rove’s book.
David Weigel at The Washington Independent:
Rove’s pride and tunnel vision about his campaign tactics aren’t anything new in the Washington memoir genre. Much of Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue” featured the same sort of finger-pointing about her brief bid for the vice presidency. If anything, Rove takes more obvious relish in attacking the people who made his campaigns difficult — it’s mostly “the kooky left-wing blogosphere” that thinks he ran a dirty campaign against John McCain in 2000, or that only an “imbecile” could have believed the 2004 exit polls that showed a Kerry-Edwards win, and so on.
But unlike Palin — unlike most people with his portfolio — Rove was in the cockpit for much of a consequential presidency that launched two wars and dramatically expanded the size of the federal government. He writes about this the same way he writes about minor tiffs and campaign tricks. He spends a page trying to debunk the idea that Bush ever told Americans to “go shopping” after the September 11 attacks. Technically, he’s right. The closest Bush ever came to using those two precise words — the moment that most people remember as the “go shopping” moment — were his September 27, 2001 remarks at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport when he urged Americans to “get down to Disney World in Florida” and “take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.” But Rove insists that the “closest he ever came” was a different speech in which Bush praised Americans for “going about their daily lives, working and shopping and playing, worshiping at churches and synagogues and mosques, going to movies and to baseball.” Even there, Rove skips past the argument made by critics — that Bush, in a unique position to demand more of Americans, gave an “all-clear” sign and moved on. In writing about Hurricane Katrina, one of his only regrets is “flying over the region in Air Force One on Wednesday, rather than landing.” In one of Rove’s few admissions, he admits that he’s “one of the people responsible for this mistake.”
“Courage and Consequence” is filled with such arguments. Pre-release excepts about Rove’s take on the Iraq War — that his biggest regret was that he should have worked harder to spin the fallout over the lack of WMD in Iraq — foreshadowed the way Rove would tackle most of the controversies of his tenure. At several points, he simply misstates facts. He impugns the character of former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, who was removed from his position in New Mexico after not pursuing politicized prosecutions, by claiming that Iglesias was incompetent and gunning for electoral office. Paragraphs later, he claims that the only qualm that Democrats have with former U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin — who resigned after negative attention on his own politicized appointment — is that they feared it would help Griffin’s career. Left unmentioned is the real Democratic argument, that Griffin helped the Bush-Cheney campaign challenge the voter registrations of voters in largely African-American, Democratic-leaning areas. But to Rove, the most important Republican political strategist of his generation, Democratic worries about election integrity are basically one big joke. In an unsurprising chapter about the 2000 presidential election recount — revelations are limited to the angry looks and sighs that various players gave to Rove — he refers to the Bush team in Florida as “freedom fighters whose homeland had been occupied as they grappled with a blitzkrieg of lawsuits filed by Gore’s attorneys and street protests led by Jesse Jackson.”
Very little of this should surprise observers of Rove in power or out of power, as a quotable White House aide and then as a Fox News pundit who has reliably attacked the Democrats. Rove’s disinterest in policy or consequences of policy isn’t surprising, either. (”I didn’t pretend to be Carl von Clausewitz or Henry Kissinger, but I knew the Iraq War wasn’t going well,” Rove writes of his thinking in December 2006.) The historical value of the book itself is minimal. It functions, instead, as a test of whether Rove’s combination of pique and pride will be helpful as Bush administration veterans argue that they spent eight years changing America for the better, over the cries of critics, only to watch their work be ruined by Barack Obama and his pack of elitist liberals.
Noah Kristula-Green at FrumForum:
Earlier today, Karl Rove participated in an online chat session to answer questions about his new book. Viewers were able to tweet questions for Rove to respond to. The chat was fascinating to watch for two reasons. First, it actually gave an impression of what Karl Rove might be like as a real person, and second, because it validated how online media can be more constructive and interesting then a cable TV interviewer in an echo chamber.
The setting was not glamorous, but that may have helped the authenticity of the event. The lighting was terrible and Rove was not wearing stage make-up.
When Rove was asked what it was like to work on Fox News, he replied that “For every seven minutes that I’m on television, I have to do an hour of prep work.” Yet here he was, for an entire hour, answering questions with little prep work at all. Rove had no way to know what sort of questions he would get from the thousands of followers on Twitter.
Rove seemed fairly relaxed, and took questions on a wide range of topics, including some that were not very serious. One questioner asked Rove what reality show he would most want to be on. Rove admitted that while he was not very aware of the reality TV scene that “I would like to visit one of those ‘real wives of Orange County’ sets, to see if they are real people.” He also noted that the Sci-Fi channel was his favorite source of entertainment, but he didn’t say which shows he watched.
Although some questions were trivial, the strength of the format was that the questions were not part of a predefined topic. This allowed Rove to answer questions that may normally not get asked in the Fox News echo-chamber. When asked straight up “What has Obama done right?” Rove did not miss a beat before praising Obama’s military decisions regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, as well the reauthorization of the Patriot Act and strengthening No Child Left Behind. Rove stated: “We ought to look for things he does right, and support him.”
It’s highly unlikely that Rove would have ever been asked this question on a cable news show. Even if he had, it’s not hard to imagine a left-leaning site (such as the Huffington Post or Media Matters) grabbing the clip, embedding it, and then placing it under the headline (naturally, in all-caps): “WATCH: ROVE PRAISES OBAMA!” This would have left out how Rove then went on to attack Obama’s healthcare plan. When Rove is just chatting with followers on Twitter, there is less attention on him, and he was probably freed up to give more honest answers.
Kathryn Jean Lopez’s interview with Rove
Check this insane idea Rove pursued in advance of the post-2006-election firing of Donald Rumsfeld:
That summer, I looked into whether FedEx CEO Fred Smith, Bush’s original choice for the post in 1999, was now available. He wasn’t.
There but for the grace of God! They went to a FedEx CEO before Robert Gates. I suppose on the other hand he would’ve been better than Rumsfeld… Funny bit: Rove says that getting rid of Rumsfeld — which, of course, the Bush administration ultimately did — would’ve “damaged the military’s faith in Bush as commander in chief.” Actually, you know what really did damage the military’s faith in Bush as commander in chief? Retaining Donald Rumsfeld in the face of failure after failure after failure.
Mark Halperin and ABC’s The Note helped to build the Rove mythology. We called him “SMIP” — the Smartest Man In Politics. And he was: a walking rolodex and encyclopedia, expostulating about political history and able to drill down deep inside Congressional districts. At one White House meeting with him, he asked why the Poland Springs water bottle he had handed me (yes, I carried Karl Rove’s water, hah hah) was so special. No idea. He proceeded to give me a political history of the company. He courted reporters, knowing whom to respond to and whom to ignore (he never once responded to my e-mails — email@example.com didn’t reply), and he had a very well developed sense about the biases and structure of the traditional media. A serious appraisal of Rove’s political work can be found here.
He was a brilliant campaign strategist. His singular achievement, I think, was in the way he rendered the George W. Bush persona he helped craft as (a) the heir to the Republican throne, the inevitable nominee, and (b) acceptable to evangelicals AND Catholics. It was always an open question about whether Rove himself was religious or not. Many detractors today point to Terry Nelson or Ken Mehlman or Karen Hughes as the real forces of genius behind the Bush political brand, but it was Rove who knew someone everyone, who was plugged in, who used his intergovernmental affairs portfolio to harness the Bush campaign machine to government. Rove had little to do with the national security policies and consequential decisions about Iraq that enemies suspected, but he designed and implemented the successful strategy that played upon Americans’ fear of terrorism to portray the Democratic Party as feckless. (The Dems were feckless — about standing up to Rove.) And Rove knew how to recruit candidates, he knew how to scare (some) members of Congress. He was an enforcer of discipline. And of loyalty: there are many GOP operatives today who owe Rove their thanks for their careers.
I will read his book, and I’m sure I’ll learn much from it. I bet it will be better than critics might think — more personal, certainly. But for me, it will be less than it might once have been.
And now on to Mitt Romney’s new book
David Frum has a multitude of blog posts on the book. Here’s the list at FrumForm. Frum:
But here are the final thoughts as one puts it down:
No Apology is the work of a highly intelligent, very well informed man with a proven record of successful executive leadership. Romney was much disliked by the other Republican candidates in 2008, but as a pro-McCain friend joked to me: “I have to admit – Mitt Romney would make the greatest Secretary of Transportation ever.“
What kind of president would he be?
Peggy Noonan once wrote of the first President Bush that he saw it as his job to sit behind a big desk and wait for important decisions to be brought to him to be made wisely and well.
Romney has some of that Bush spirit, topped up with an additional measure of technocratic expertise.
Yet it’s never been enough for a president to be a very smart guy who is good at running things. America has lots of smart guys who are good at running things. Why this smart guy of all the possible smart guys?
That’s the question that remains unanswered at the end of No Apology – and maybe the core weakness of the Romney political campaign.
Spencer Ackerman at The Washington Independent:
Romney’s central contention is that there are four “strategies” for global power: the United States’ blend of benevolent, market-based hegemony; the Chinese model of political autocracy and unrestrained industry; Russia’s energy-based path to resurgence; and the “violent jihadists,” an agglutination of scary Muslims. Trouble in paradise, according to Romney, comes from President Obama’s “presupposition” that “America is in a state of inevitable decline.” As a result, Romney must warn the nation to continue to lead the world, lest one or more of these competitors overtake America. “[T]here can be no rational denial of the reality that America is a decidedly good nation,” writes Romney, or perhaps a third grader. “Therefore, it is good for America to be strong.”
So many things are wrong with Romney’s view of an imperiled America that it is difficult to know where to begin. First, the idea that the U.S. is locked in a struggle for global supremacy with “violent jihadists” overlooks the exponential differences in economic resources, military strength, and global appeal between America and an increasingly imperiled band of Waziristan-based acolytes of Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda can attack us; it cannot displace the U.S. as a global leader. It manufactures nothing, trades with no one, and has absolutely nothing to offer anyone except like-minded conspiratorial murderers. In order to disguise these glaring asymmetries, Romney has to use an empty term — “the jihadists” — which he cannot rigorously define and with which he means to absorb the vastly different aims and ambitions of rival terrorist groups and separate nations like Iran.
“Violent jihadist groups come in many stripes across a spectrum,” Romney writes, “from Hamas to Hezbollah, from the Muslim Brotherhood to al-Qaeda.” But al-Qaeda exists because it considered the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt too accommodating of the Egyptian government; Hamas has literally fought al-Qaeda attempts at penetrating the Gaza Strip; and Sunni al-Qaeda released a videotape just this weekend that derides “Rejectionist Shiite Hezbollah.” There is absolutely nothing that unites these organizations in any programmatic manner except Romney’s ignorance, and the expansion of ignorance is insufficient to topple an American superpower.
Ackerman also draws attention to Romney’s bizarre view on how to conduct U.S. diplomacy, which seems to boil down to having one diplomatic attache for each regional command around the world. Ackerman writes:
Such an individual would “encourage people and politicians to adopt and abide by the principles of liberal democracy,” something that “would be ideal if other allied nations created similar regional positions, and if we coordinated our efforts with theirs.” That’s it for diplomacy, and he doesn’t have an agenda for global development. Why the world will simply do what America says simply because America says it is something Romney never bothers to consider. High school students at model U.N. conferences have proposed less ludicrous ideas.
Then again, those high school students have probably given the subject more thought. That is what I find most inexplicable about Romney’s decision to spend any time at all trying to fill in gaps in his record on foreign policy that he and everyone else know are there. He seems to think that making enough of the conventional noises on the right issues will persuade doubters and fence-sitters that he really does know what he’s talking about. As a political matter, this is folly. Bush was and remained famously clueless and incurious on foreign policy, but during the 2000 campaign he did not waste time trying to match Gore on national security and foreign policy credentials. He covered his glaring weaknesses by playing to the strengths that he did have. Romney seems to be intent on doing the opposite.
Ackerman also notes that the war in Afghanistan receives no mention in the book. As Romney still cannot make up his mind whether Obama has handled Afghanistan well or poorly, it is no surprise that he has not yet figured out how to demonize Obama for doing something that was promised and which Romney would normally support.
Kathryn Jean Lopez at The Corner:
If you had any doubts about who he is, you’re seeing the real thing now. Watching Mitt Romney on the No Apology tour thus far, he’s talking about what he wants to talk about, what moves him: being a Mr. Fix-It businessman — on the economy, on diplomacy, on health care. He wants to do this because he believes America is great and should and can continue to be. He appreciates — in a firsthand and in a practical, sociological way — that families are the building block of a great country, and he sees how good policies help them. And that’s what he wants to talk about.
And if a social issue hits his desk — based on his Massachusetts record — he’s going to do what he can to preserve families and life. (And that, by the way, makes a huge difference. We don’t, for instance, have such a person in the White House right now. And it can have a chilling effect: in executive orders, in the courts, on staffing, in health care, etc.) No matter if doesn’t happen to be what gets him up in the morning — stuff like the opportunity to talk about D.C. gay marriage, for instance.
Speaking of his Massachusetts record: It seems clear that he is not going to apologize for trying to tackle the health-care problem there. Their final plan was clearly imperfect, but it’s more right than what Washington is doing now. He’ll be stubborn in defense of it because governors tackling health-care reform — with the input of the likes of the Heritage Foundation, by the way — is to be encouraged.
And so, on Letterman last night, you didn’t see pizazz or stand-up. You heard dorky jokes — the rapper on the plane broke my hair — and a serious guy. That’s who he is. His CPAC speech this year and his book reflect that. He’s uncomfortable changing his emphases to fit Iowa or anywhere else, and he doesn’t pull it off convincingly when he tries it. If he runs again, don’t expect him to.
Granted, it won’t sell remotely as well as Palin’s book did, but for a guy who sometimes seems lost in the shuffle of outsized conservative personalities, it’s a nice prize.
Romney’s book tour has, so far, attracted pretty large crowds, serving — along with the book sales — to reassure his supporters that, though he may not draw Sarah Palin style hordes, he’s a figure of genuine popular interest. He reportedly attracted more than 1,000 people to a book signing in Naples, Fla. last night.
That’s the good news for Romney fans. The bad news is that Mitt 2.0 is starting to sound like Mitt 1.0 again, which is also surprising since he appeared to have learned his lesson lately by not flip-flopping on RomneyCare in interviews. Click the image below to watch the clip from this morning’s Imus of Mitt claiming he’s never really called himself pro-choice.
I honestly think the perception of opportunism is a bigger liability to him than RomneyCare, which will, one way or another, be off most people’s radar screens come late 2011. And the worst part is that his record on this subject is so well known to conservatives that there’s no point in being weaselly anymore; just own up to your prior record, say you’ve changed your mind, and let it lie. Fudging the facts only gives people an excuse to make it an issue again.
I’ve always liked him personally, but between stuff like this and “true conservatives” hammering him for endorsing McCain, I get the feeling that he’s being set up as the Charlie Crist of the Republican presidential primary. Although if that leads him to accuse Huckabee of waxing his back, it’ll all be worth it.
Robert Costa at National Review:
Romney does not mean to scare his readers with No Apology, and the book’s tone is far from polemical. But he does intend to be frank: “As long as there are people out there, politicians in particular, that say ‘no worries, no problems, all we have to do is adjust the taxes a little bit and things will get better,’ then I think people are not getting the straight story.”
The most notable aspect of No Apology is how, for its first third, the book functions as a rumination on the nature of American power. Romney does not see international relations as a web of competing nation-states seeking a balance, but as a competition between four models of geopolitical order — the American model of freedom and democracy, the authoritarian and commerce-heavy Chinese model, the Russian authoritarian energy-based model, and the violent-jihadist model. To win, he writes, America must “be wary and vigilant,” because “by mid-century, out grandchildren may well view Russia with the same concern which we and our parents once did.”
While Romney is an avowed supporter of military power, he also spends time in No Apology advocating “soft power.” President Obama, he says, has misunderstood that term’s meaning.
“The greatest shortcoming between our ability and our performance in foreign policy comes in our exercise of soft power,” Romney says. “Our inability to sway and influence affairs in the world without military might has been disappointing over the past year. It is extraordinary to me that we have not been able to dissuade Iran, for instance, from its foolish course. Or North Korea, a nation that is puny in its capabilities, from their course. It just underscores our inability to effectively use diplomacy, the sway of our economic vitality, our cultural advantages — we’re just underperforming in those areas. If we were to organize our effort as effectively in the diplomatic sphere as we do in the private sector, we’d have a lot bigger impact.”
While working on his chapters about foreign policy, Romney found that objective measures of power were hard to come by. So, he developed his own, calling it the “Index of Leading Indicators.” He is the first to say that his model is “easy to criticize,” but hopes that his 14-point outline on everything from GDP levels and tax levels to health-care costs and national-security preparedness is a move toward providing some sort of “corrective” for future leaders trying to make sense of America’s place in the world.
“I really wanted to be able to go back 25 years and calculate for each one of the indices, to see what they said then and see what they said today,” Romney says. “To be honest, I found it beyond my capacity as a writer to get all that data. It was really hard to try and go back 25, 50 years and pull out that data. But we can certainly collect it now. If others have other points they’d like to add to the data index, great, but I think it’s a worthwhile exercise to try and actually track the progress that we’re making in preserving our values and shoring up the foundation of our national strength.”
Shawn Healy at Huffington Post:
Romney also writes about education policy and laments the relative decline in America’s competitiveness, embracing standardized testing, merit pay, mechanisms to remove incompetent educators, charter schools, school choice (though he questions its political viability), and distance learning. He reserves terse words for teacher unions, bodies he considers detrimental to requisite educational reforms.
His energy policy relies on alternate energy sources including nuclear power, natural gas, clean coal, even hydrogen. He holds solar and wind power as promising complimentary energy sources, but doubts that either represent a panacea. In an early bid for support in the Iowa Caucuses, he touts his support for ethanol subsidies and production. Romney is highly critical of the cap and trade legislation passed by the House last year, and also dismisses the wisdom of a more direct carbon tax. However, he does tout the potential of a carbon tax coupled with reciprocal tax offsets in sales or payroll taxes.
No Apology is a serious work that departs from standard campaign biographies. Indeed, its closest parallel is arguably Obama’s Audacity of Hope. Romney intersperses brief biographical footnotes throughout, but its policy-orientation reigns. While he shares anecdotes from his failed 2008 presidential run, he avoids ex post facto analysis, and also strays from foreshadowing a future run for the nation’s highest office. This means there is no dissection of how his Mormon faith proved an obstacle among conservative Christian voters, or his repositioning on major social issues that led many to conclude that he was a “flip-flopper” of convenience. He does make several references to his faith, and reaffirms his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.
The irony is that Romney’s 2008 campaign largely trumpeted social and military issues, peripheral to his core competency as an economic turn-around agent. In No Apology, he takes the opportunity to press the reset button, recasts himself as a more centrist, pragmatic technocrat, and lays the groundwork for a repeat presidential run during the most devastating economic times since the Great Depression.
Paul Waldman at Tapped:
Foreign policy is not really Romney’s wheelhouse, but I suppose he feels the need to check off the “Grrr…I hate terrorists!” box. Look for him to pivot away from foreign policy, particularly since Republicans are having a hard time saying Obama is destroying our standing in the world. The GOP primary will be about the domestic scourge — the socialist tide oozing from the White House — and who can capture the spirit of the aggrieved, bitter, angry white man. Romney could make an argument about why, with his managerial experience and business success, he’d be a better steward of government and the economy than his opponents. But that’s not the ground on which they’re going to be competing.
I imagine Romney looks at his probable opponents with frustration, knowing that he’s far more capable of being president than your Palins and Pawlentys. Though we have yet to locate the depth of pandering to which Mitt won’t sink, his efforts at identity politics just don’t come as naturally as they do to the others. But he’s certainly going to give it the old college try
Razib Khan at Secular Right:
Here are my odds: I think Mitt Romney has a 1 out of 5 chance of gaining the nomination in 2012 for the presidency if the Democrats do not pass health care legislation. This is in my estimation the modal probability in the field for individuals which we know of. That is, I think this is better odds than any other potential candidates currently on offer (remember, I think there’s a serious chance that a “dark horse” may rise to prominence and win the nomination, so I would still put “someone-we-don’t-know/aren’t talking about” as a higher probability than any of the “top-tier”). If the Democrats do pass the individual mandate I put Romney’s odds at 1 in 20, and would guess that other 2012 hopefuls such as Tim Pawlenty would now have a greater probability of gaining the nomination (for what it’s worth, I think Sarah Palin’s odds are around 1 in 20 with our without health care).
UPDATE: David Frum in FrumForum on Rove’s book