Is Romney picking up steam?

The Media want to annoint Romney the de facto nominee, as does the Republican Establishment, so they can get on with the race against Obama.  But Santorum hangs in there.  To me, a 47-35% percent win in Illinois is not that great for Romney, especially given his huge spending lead.  Santorum looks to win in Louisiana, putting another wrench in the Romney machine.  Santorum does not need enough delegates to win, of course, just enough to keep Romney from winning the nomination in advance of the convention, to “win” his campaign.  I’ve said it before — I think we will end up with a Romney/Santorum ticket, because Santorum is doing too well with critical Republican constituencies for him to be cast aside.

In the end, the Presidential campaign will come down to a referendum on the economy and on inequality. The next quarter’s corporate profits are going to be revealing — they may show continued strength or a decline from the last two quarters.  Either way, job growth looks to be tepid.   If Portugal tanks and revives European anxieties, if China’s landing comes down hard, if Israel attack Iran – any of these could drive a stake in heart of the nascent economic recovery, and leave Obama struggling with an economic downturn just before the election. So the outcome is still in doubt.

Judging from Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, the Republican plan for America should be called “Free to Fail.”  Both Romney and Santorum spoke of “Freedom” in their post-Primary talks last night, and they meant freedom from government regulation that prevents fraud and abuse and environmental disasters, and freedom from government spending on income support, public education, medical care, and other vital elements for the poor and struggling working class.   No one want regulations that choke the economy, or spending on “bridges to nowhere” or other frivolous programs that mainly benefit local politicians and contractors.  Yet when the oil washed up on the beaches of Louisiana and Mississipi, when hurricane Katrina destroyed homes, when the wall-street speculators crashed the economy, people always ask — “where was the government?  Why weren’t they protecting us?”   It’s time people realized they cannot demand government protection and reject government regulation at the same time!

Whether it is deficit planning, regulation, income support, or any number of other pressing issues, the reasonable middle is where policy should be.  But politics keeps driving us to extreme alternatives.  Romney and Obama tend to both be centrist candidates.  Both Romney and Obama, for example, agreed that the only sensible way to provide broad health care coverage to Americans is to require private health insurers to cover all Americans; and that such a requirement will only be financially viable for the private sector insurers if all Americans are required to purchase a market-based policy.  Yet Romney and other Republicans now describe Obama’s health care a socialist, government take-over of medicine.  So we are unlikely to have a sensible debate on health care, or any other critical issue, until after the election.

But will we get one even then?

About jackgoldstone

Hazel Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University
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