Will: Mitt Romney, GOP could win by looking beyond the South
GalleriesWhere Obama and Romney stand on issues Where Joe Biden and Paul Ryan stand on the issues Mitt Romney's run for president
Conventions are the seventh-inning stretches of presidential politics, a pause to consider the interminable prelude and the coming climax. Republicans gathering in Tampa face an unusual election in which they do not have a substantial advantage concerning the most presidential subject, foreign policy.
This is not because their nominee has weak foreign-policy credentials, which are not weaker than President Barack Obama's were four years ago. And it's not because some of former Gov. Mitt Romney's policy expostulations during the nominating process -- e.g., "We should not negotiate with the Taliban. We should defeat the Taliban" -- promise elongation of an 11-year exercise in mission creep that the public is eager to liquidate. And it is not because there are no ominous potentialities: Both Romney and Obama seem committed to a third regional war if, as is highly probable, Iran continues to pursue nuclear weapons.
Rather, the eclipse of foreign policy is a result of this perverse Obama accomplishment: He has proved that "growth recession" is not oxymoronic. During this recovery, now in its fourth year, the economy often has grown so slowly that job creation rarely matched the growth of the workforce. Perhaps Romney should rejoice that economic anxieties have marginalized foreign policy: The last time a businessman was nominated in a period of national security tensions -- Republican Wendell Willkie in 1940 -- he lost.
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There have been 11 elections since two Democratic presidents committed the United States to a protracted war of attrition in Indochina -- John Kennedy by complicity in regime-change by coup; Lyndon Johnson by incontinent escalation. In those 11 elections, the Democratic Party, wounded by its riotous 1968 convention and its 1972 nomination of George McGovern, has elected just three presidents. Jimmy Carter won after Vietnam was lost. Bill Clinton won after the Cold War was won. Barack Obama won after the nation had recoiled against foreign overreaching in Iraq.
The eclipse of foreign policy underscores the rationality of Romney's selection of Paul Ryan. The youngest vice presidential nominee since Dan Quayle, Ryan guarantees that the Republican message -- certainly subliminally, perhaps explicitly -- will be Obama's immaturity, which is writ large in the childishness of his characteristic rhetorical evasion. Every difficult choice is, he says, "a false choice." And the maturity gap between the two tickets is underscored by the serial buffoonery of the oldest candidate for national office, the 69-year-old fellow currently a heartbeat away from the presidency.
One peculiarity of this political season's first seven innings was the selection of a nonideological presidential nominee by a Republican Party that, under the beneficent influence of the tea party, has never been more ideological or more ideologically homogeneous. The Ryan selection ameliorates this incongruity.
The incongruity, however, explains why Romney may be able to win with a Big Ten strategy. Until last year, when Nebraska joined this athletic conference, it extended from State College, Pa., to Iowa City, Iowa. Romney enters the final innings competitive in those two states, as well as Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, which means he is poised to correct a Republican problem: The party has been too dependent on the South -- the 11 states of the Confederacy, plus Oklahoma and Kentucky.
In the last five presidential elections, Republicans have received an average of 64 percent of their electoral votes from the South. In 2000, George W. Bush became the first Republican to win while losing the electoral and popular votes outside the South. The party's Southern cast was one reason John McCain did not carry any suburb contiguous to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit or Chicago.
Such places are habitats of persons who by now may like the idea of Obama but not the results of him. As Holman W. Jenkins of The Wall Street Journal astutely writes, "Obama's great political talent has been his knack for granting his admirers permission to think highly of themselves for thinking highly of him." Romney's great political challenge is to wean them away by making them faintly embarrassed about their former infatuation.
George Will is a nationally syndicated columnist.