Friday, April 08, 2011
The latest public poll showing Donald Trump running right behind Mitt Romney in the race for the Republican presidential nomination suggests some very serious problems on the Republican side.
No offense to Mr. Trump, a master showman, but hosting "Celebrity Apprentice" is a far cry from running the country. It's almost funny to think of all those people who claimed that Barack Obama's years in the Illinois legislature prior to being elected to the United States Senate did not qualify him to be president, whereas Mr. Trump's career as a high profile (and highly leveraged) developer turned TV star does.
Indeed, it is hard to think of anyone less qualified to preside over the nation's deficit than the man who, in his own business, was the biggest deficit spender ever. Talk about too big to fail? It is the motto that has kept Mr. Trump in business, in the face of what should have been (and actually was) one extravagant failure after another.
There's no law against a "showman" being president; Ronald Reagan was in many respects a bigger "star" than Mr. Trump will ever be. But he was also the two-term governor of California and, as far as I can tell, never amassed -- personally or professionally -- anything approaching the debt Mr. Trump did. Yes, a star can be president, but Donald Trump is no Ronald Reagan.
As for the more serious contenders, Mitt Romney's solid hold on the top position may be almost as good news for the Democrats as Mr. Trump's No. 2 status. In Mr. Romney's case, the question isn't qualifications, but ideology and religion. The first does matter; the second shouldn't, but might matter even more.
One of my favorite lines when I was working for the last Massachusetts governor to run for president was the one some of my Southern friends used to say: that by November, folks remembered that only two things came from Massachusetts: liberals and lobsters. And my candidate -- and Mr. Romney, for that matter -- is definitely not a lobster.
Is Mr. Romney a liberal? By conservative lights, he almost certainly was, as governor of Massachusetts. Don't get me wrong: when my brother and his family were recently trying to get health insurance, I was very glad that he lives in the first state in the country to adopt what is derisively known in certain circles as Obama-care. In Massachusetts, anybody can buy health insurance, regardless of pre-existing conditions, and everyone is expected to; families earning less than $55,000 per year get a subsidy that allows them to do so. Thanks, Mitt.
Not sure your Republican colleagues would second that. On a whole range of issues, from abortion to discrimination, Gov. Mitt Romney was in the Massachusetts mainstream, where the lobsters swim.
Of course, as Mr. Romney proved in his last campaign, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. You can change your mind on health care and abortion. Mr. McCain did a lot of shifting and won the nomination. But the one thing you can't change is your religion.
Don't get me wrong. I've got nothing against Mormons. I would never "not vote" for someone because of his religion, any more than I would exclude someone because of race or sex. It's popular to say that Barack Obama's election put an end to such obstacles. I'm not so sure.
During the last campaign, I found myself at dinner with the leaders of a conservative Christian university. They could not have been nicer to me; as I recall, they even paid me. But in answer to my question, they said they could never vote for Mr. Romney.
Why, I asked, thinking they might think that he wasn't a lobster either, might take issue with some of the positions he took when the electorate was limited to Massachusetts.
No, they said, without blinking, with a straight face; it was because of his religion.
I almost fell off my chair. You wouldn't vote for him because he's a Mormon, I asked, in utter disbelief. After Kennedy broke the Catholic barrier, religion wasn't supposed to count. But here were these intelligent, well-educated and worldly men invoking what I thought was an argument that had been put to rest half a century ago.
It hasn't. When I pushed a bit -- would they feel the same way about a Jew (no) or an African-American (no) -- so why a Mormon, they explained to me, with a level of detail that I can hardly duplicate, that Mormons are not really Christian, that they don't accept the trinity and that their beliefs are so fundamentally at odds with Christianity that it was insulting to suggest that they were members of the same faith.
I was shocked. Everyone else at the table was shocked that I was shocked.
There are many potential candidates I respect on the Republican side, who are not Mormons and not failed developers. But so long as Romney and Trump are leading the pack, they are unlikely to lead their party to the White House.
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