Consultant in Chief: Instead of Planning to Cut Government, Mitt Romney Is Repackaging the Same Old Republicanism

By Suderman, Peter | Reason, March 2012 | Go to article overview

Consultant in Chief: Instead of Planning to Cut Government, Mitt Romney Is Repackaging the Same Old Republicanism


Suderman, Peter, Reason


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FOR THE LAST THREE YEARS, the Republican Party has been driven by what it's against. Since taking office, President Barack Obama has created a target-rich environment for the GOP: an $800 billion stimulus that failed to deliver on promises to reduce unemployment, a $1 trillion health care overhaul that remains deeply unpopular, three years of record spending, and a $5 trillion increase in the national debt.

In 2010, the party successfully unified around an anti-spending message that helped it retake the House. And the base has rallied around the cause: When Fox News asked Republican primary voters about their priorities in October, 76 percent responded that economic issues "such as taxes and government spending" would be most important in deciding their votes for the party's presidential nominee. Yet even as Republicans frame the 2012 elections as a referendum on the size and scope of government, the party allegedly in favor of reducing both is on the verge of nominating for president not a small-government firebrand or a free market apostle but a management consultant more interested in tweaking hated policies than doing away with them.

He's not just any consultant, of course. Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP's last presidential nomination, earned an estimated $250 million fortune in the management advice business--first as a consultant, then as CEO of a private equity firm spun off from his consultancy. Romney turned around a series of companies, helped introduce major innovations to the art of business management, saved a Winter Olympics from the brink of scandal and bankruptcy, and even righted the ship when one of the most prominent management consulting companies in the world was foundering. Then he applied the lessons he learned along the way to his gig as the Bay State's governor, with mixed results. And now Romney is bringing his lifelong business-strategy ethic to the uphill task of running for president.

After squeaking out a victory in the January 3 Iowa caucus, Romney was well positioned to win the GOP nomination. But the consultant's road to the White House is paved with built-in contradictions, which Romney has a tendency to display all at once. At a speech in Washington last October, for example, the candidate made his pitch to conservative activists, unveiling a framework plan to cut spending and reform Medicare. Warning that it would require "tough choices" he talked up the need to identify $500 billion in annual federal budget savings. There are "a lot" of federal programs that should "either be dramatically scaled back or cut," he said. "We're going to eliminate or cut programs that are not absolutely essential--even when we like them."

What tough choices was Romney willing to make? Which popular programs would he eliminate? Just at the part of the speech where you'd expect some details, he shifted focus, promising to "preserve our commitment to a military that is so strong that no nation would ever think of testing it." In fact, Romney swore he would "reverse Obama's massive defense cuts." And the alleged budget-cutter wasn't done criticizing the president for his spending reductions. Later in the same speech, he even scolded Obama for weakening Medicare, vowing to "protect" and "improve" this most budget-busting of entitlements. Obama is "the only president in history" Romney said, almost in wonder, "who has cut Medicare for seniors" Rest assured that a Romney administration would reverse those cuts, too.

On paper, Romney was supposedly offering the gathered conservatives a vision of a "simpler, smaller, and smarter" federal government. But most of what little he offered in the way of specified cuts were drops in the ocean of a $3.6 trillion budget: defunding Amtrak ($1.6 billion a year) and Planned Parenthood ($300 million), eliminating foreign aid (which cost $49 billion in 2011) to "countries that oppose American interests" reducing the budgets of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (less than $1 billion a year combined). …

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