McCain vs. Romney

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Since I'll be voting in the Super Tuesday primaries today, I thought I'd look at the two leading GOP candidates on the issues, because I think they've both been misrepresented by the pundits. Judging by the SelectSmart information, here is how they compare on the issues. I'll include some comments on Huckabee as I go to indicate why he's not getting as strong consideration. (Anyone who's been reading this blog for more than a week should know why Ron Paul gets zero consideration.)

On Iraq and general war on terrorism issues, I see no difference of substance. They both support the continued efforts in Iraq and have criticized the Bush Administration in pretty much the same ways as each other. (Huckabee's criticism has been stronger, but his forward policies are similar as far as I can tell.) They may well be different on budget/spending/deficit issues, but there's no easy way to measure that, and their rhetoric is pretty similar (whereas Huckabee seems to be at least a little to the left of both of them, but there is a disconnect between his rhetoric and his record, and it's hard to tell how much has to do with Arkansas-specific issues or things he's changed his mind on and how much has to do with general approach).

It's hard to see a difference between them on issues like marijuana legalization and medical marijuana (Huckabee does clearly oppose decriminalize medical marijuana, but the other two are at least toying with decriminalization). Both have at times favored minimum wage increases, but both have opposed them at times too (and Huckabee seems to be a pragmatist on the issue). Both support vouchers in education (and Huckabee does not).

It's also hard to tell how to compare them on environmental issues. McCain is more environment-friendly than most Republicans, but Romney may well be also. He's certainly more open to the reality of global warming than some Republicans have been (although most who resist making huge changes aren't resisting the premise, just insisting that the reality of global warming isn't the issue).

I see no difference in their current views on stem cells. (McCain at one point supported the use of stem cells from embryos who were already going to be killed, a view I don't think pro-lifers should have a problem with but many wrongly do. But given the strong possibilities with other kinds of stem cell research without killing any embryos, McCain has decided that there's no need to such an approach anymore, and he's now insisting on not supporting any funding for stem cell research that involves developing new lines from embryos that haven't yet been killed. So his position is now the same as Romney's. [Update: See here for more details that I've been able to dig up since writing this post. It's not quite as clear as I'd thought, but what I said here is in the direction of the truth.]

On other pro-life issues, Romney and McCain are pretty much in the same spot. Romney used to be pro-choice on the legal question (but never on the moral question), but he's now fully pro-life. McCain has always been pro-life, but I get the impression it's not an issue he
spends a lot of time getting worked up about. McCain does have a misleading statistic because some pro-life groups consider his campaign finance views to be against their desired methods of promoting their cause. But they're being pretty deceptive by pretending his campaign finance votes are pro-choice votes. On actual pro-life/pro-choice issues, he's consistently voted pro-life. So I see no real difference between these two here on the actual issues.

The site I linked to says little about judges, but their official views are similar. They both have said good things about both of President Bush's Supreme Court nominees, and both would probably appoint pretty conservative judges in general. People have questioned the commitment of both to this issue, but I don't see how either is better off on that score.

There is a rumor going around about McCain not liking Alito despite his vote, but I think there's a plausible explanation for that quote that isn't being considered. What he said (according to the rumor) is that Alito wears his conservatism on his sleeve, and that's being interpreted in a way that doesn't fit with what Alito is like. Alito doesn't wear his conservatism on his sleeve if that means he uses harsh rhetoric and engages in partisan sniping the way Scalia does. But I think what McCain probably meant is that Alito had a more substantial conservative record than Roberts, which affected why he got fewer votes from a Senate that is now even less conservative and would have a harder time confirming Alito. So he wore his conservatism on his sleeve in having a more conservative record and getting more ire from Democratic senators. McCain would prefer clear conservatives with less of a record to snipe at, because that would lead toward easier confirmation. His votes fit better with this interpretation, so I'm not going to assume the uncharitable one even if I'm going to accept the rumor (which I'm not sure I should do).

Romney more conservative

McCain supports civil unions for gay couples, and Romney opposes them.

There may be room for wondering how much Romney cares about guns, but his current stance is pretty much in agreement with the NRA, and McCain got a C+ from them. But Romney has supported some restrictions on guns in the past, in ways the NRA has opposed, and McCain's rating from gun control Brady Group is 14%, which isn't great.

McCain supports the Bush-style immigration reform package, including a guest worker program. Romney is very much against such programs. As far as I can tell, his plan to deal with illegal immigrants is simply to deport them.

Romney seems to be against at least the full-blown McCain-Feingold package on campaign finance, although I'm not sure if McCain even agrees with the whole thing anymore.

McCain more conservative

Romney's current health care plan is much more conservative than the one he enacted in Massachusetts, but it's a compassionate conservative plan many fiscal conservatives, including McCain, consider to be too big-government. It's not a government plan but does involve government regulations on health insurance that SmartSelect calls "market reforms".

My Evaluation

First off, let me get Huckabee out of the way. In the places where he differs from McCain and Romney, he is often either more conservative or more liberal than both of them in ways that I disagree with. He doesn't support vouchers, and I do. He's a compassionate conservative in the Bush mold but more so, and I think it's too much more. I haven't been able to figure out his specific approach to immigration, but it's not clear to me that I'll see him as superior to McCain even though he doesn't seem to hold his exact views (but is clearly in the vicinity). He's held his socially conservative views longer than Romney and more passionately than McCain, but I don't think he'd do a lot different except in minor ways. That doesn't settle it for me. I am resistant to medical marijuana, but I don't place that issue all that high on my priority list, so it doesn't overcome the negatives. I do really like the flat tax as Huckabee intends to do it, and that's about the only serious positive consideration about him. I don't think it outweighs the negatives. So that brings it back to McCain and Romney.

I'm extremely disappointed that GOP candidates have had virtually nothing to say about race. Ron Paul is the exception, but that's because he allowed some racist idiot to publish racist rants under his name for several years without bothering to stop it, and he's had to respond to it by declaring his opposition to racism (revealing only that he doesn't have a clue what racism even is). I guess I've been spoiled by a Republican president who has some clue about race. I have no indication of which candidates have gone out of their way to include non-whites in their campaigns, cabinets, or other staff. I have no indication what their exact stances on affirmative action are (and I'd prefer someone with a view at least as nuanced as Bush's). Do they spout the color-blind nonsense many Republicans and Democrats put forth as a ploy to pretend they care about race while showing they don't? Do they favor race-conscious policies that nonetheless don't amount to strengthening racial problems the way many race-conscious policies do? There's just no one paying attention to these issues on the GOP side the way Bush at least made some forward motion toward doing, even if he didn't take it far enough for me. So that doesn't help me favor anyone. (I do suspect Huckabee's history dealing with race in the SBC might be a good sign, but I'd need to see specifics in presidential policy for it to move me.)

On health care, McCain is more conservative, but this is an issue I could go either way on. I think what Romney tried to do in Massachusetts was an attempt at something that in its premise is at least a good idea, even if it had some real problems in its execution, and he seems to have learned from those problems. I hesitate at some of the ways it's been tried in both his plan and Schwarzeneggar's similar one in California, but I'm not sure the more conservative plans people are proposing are really going to cut it, McCain included. So this one's a wash for me.

I'd say the same of guns. I don't care all that much about the issue, so I don't care if Romney doesn't care much about it. I'm not sure what I think of the legal question about individual vs. collective rights, but I think even on an individual rights view there should be room for regulating people's ability to exercise their right to own a gun, e.g. waiting periods and background checks are inconveniences, not real obstacles. This issue is almost negligible in terms of my vote.

I'm not really in favor of leaving the marriage laws the way they are, but I also don't prefer McCain's solution of just going with civil unions. I don't see how the government should be declaring what counts as a marriage, which means they shouldn't allow straights to get married as a legally category either. But I do have to say that McCain's position is closer to mine on this.On immigration, I've defended the Bush approach before in principle, even if I think there were too many details of the actual bill that were pretty stupid. So I don't think this is a huge strike against McCain. It's certainly not equivalent to amnesty, which is what Romney inaccurately calls it, much to my disappointment. Romney's own approach to this seems much worse to me.

On campaign finance, Romney clearly wins in my book. McCain-Feingold has been a disaster, allowing more of the sort of thing they wanted to prevent while preventing much that should be perfectly fine.

McCain's thus better on an issue where I don't think his view is really the best approach, and he's better on an issue where I think his actual proposal had serious problems. But he's worse on an issue that I think is a real problem for him. Do I take immigration and civil unions to be more important than campaign finance? I don't even know how to compare them, so I'm left not being sure how to decide between Romney and McCain on the issues, a position I'm very surprised to find myself in.

So that leaves the intangibles. Some fear that Romney is faking his turn to conservatism, but most of their evidence is fabricated or at least misleading. He did change his mind on the legal question of abortion, but he told a plausible story of why given that he was already pro-life on the moral question. Many of his so-called flip-flops are simply a different emphasis for a different time (e.g. he always opposed gay marriage, but it wasn't the issue in 1994; equal rights in employment and housing were, and he still favors those; they're just not the issue now). But there may well have been more conversions than abortion, which is the only one he's really said much about. Does that mean he shouldn't be trusted? Well, he did have a term as governor to demonstrate these conservative views, which he did on some of the ones most important to me. This was despite making some campaign promises that he felt obligated to keep that went the other way. So that means his conservatism has led to real decisions in office in a conservative direction. A record is important for those who claim someone's rhetoric is insincere.

McCain has a lot of negatives too. Conservatives don't trust him because of his views that are more moderate, many of which I've already said I agree with, at least in principle. I don't think he gets energized by abortion or the judge issue the way I'd like a president to be. But he has almost always demonstrated by his voting record that he's willing to support views I agree with, even if he cares less about them than I'd like. So I'm really not sure how the intangibles are supposed to make a huge difference here.

What settles it for me are the following two factors. McCain is likely to select judges I'd like, as is Romney. I suspect Romney will select more conservative judges and fight for them. I expect McCain to select solid conservatives like Alito and Roberts but not fight for the more conservative types like Janice Rogers Brown. That slighly leans me toward Romney. McCain might get more judges through, but they might not be as representative of the best of conservative judges. This is a slight lean in Romney's direction, though, and it's partly guesswork.

The other thing that does it for me is Romney's willingness to go to bat for pro-life issues when McCain simply votes the right way. I don't see McCain doing anything bad in that area, but I also don't see him pushing the way Romney will. Again, this is a slight lean, but it's enough to tip me over the edge. I want to reiterate that this is only a lean. I really am much more impressed by McCain once I look at the issues than I expected I would be. I'll be happy to cast my vote for him in the general election if he gets the nomination, as seems likely right now. But I intend to vote for Romney today.

Two issues commonly discussed need a short treatment before I close. McCain is polling so much better than Romney against both Clinton and Obama, and I'm especially concerned not to turn the White House over to a Democrat given the current (and likely continued) state of Congress. So shouldn't the pragmatic vote would lean me to McCain, simply because he's more electable? Well, New York is an all-or-nothing primary, and the polls aren't even close right now. McCain is almost certainly going to win New York. So isn't it better to undermine his support by one vote and support someone else I like slightly more? In the case of New York, pragmatism plays no role in this primary. People with my views in states where the delegates are decided differently have a harder choice to make. If I were in California or Georgia, I might consider the pragmatist argument more carefully. In New York, it doesn't tilt things back in McCain's direction, though.

Update: I thought of an issue while going to sleep that I forgot to include when finishing this post this morning. I'm generally in favor of keeping more candidates in the primary race for a longer time if possible. That gives more states a chance to weigh in on a wider range of candidates. If McCain wins the nomination effectively today, I will be disappointed. I'd like Romney and Huckabee to have a chance in other states who have yet to vote. It's just a good thing in general to have more options. That means supporting the most likely underdog competitor is a good thing, even if it's support of just one more vote (and the blog support probably might have some effect, so I shouldn't discount that). So that's another reason to try to give Romney a little more of a boost today.

Update 2: McCain is close to former Senator Warren Rudman (R-NH), the man responsible for David Souter. He was McCain's campaign director in 2000, and I think he has some role in the current campaign, but I wasn't able to find anything with a quick Google search. The closeness of this relationship is worrisome for McCain's judicial appointments. Rudman didn't just insist to the first President Bush that Souter would be fine. He insisted in private to Democratic senators that they wouldn't have any problems with him. McCain has at this point distanced himself from Rudman's position on Souter. I'm not sure this is a huge worry, but it is a little worrisome, more so than the rumors of his Alito comment, which I don't take to show much of anything. If Rudman were to get a place in suggesting judicial nominees, and McCain were to listen to him on stealth nominees, that would be very troublesome for judicial conservatives.

3 Comments

McCain verses Romney...well...Romney is a bit troublesome.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1Hn2tTVjRo

Do you really want that man to be the standard bearer of any party?

I need context, and I need to know what intervened between these various statements. Otherwise I take such out-of-context videos as showing absolutely nothing. Anyone can take half-statements and run them together to make them look bad. Since there are a lot of immature people doing that a lot with Romney, I'm not even going to give this a tiny bit of consideration unless there's some real support to it.

Also, a number of the things I said toward the end of the post do take this sort of thing into account. So even if this ends up being an important consideration, it joins the other ones that I ended up concluding weren't sufficient.

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