In 2006, looking toward the presidential election of 2008, my top choice to lead the country was Mitt Romney. At the time, he was serving as governor of Massachusetts. Given his time in the private sector, where he made loads of money leading Bain Capital, his time successfully rescuing the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and his time as governor, where he was gaining valuable experience as chief executive of a state, I felt he would be the best person to succeed President George W. Bush.
I had no knowledge as to whether he would actually run for president. He struck me as a likely candidate for a number of reasons: he was a governor who seemed to be very ambitious (he waged an effective, if unsuccessful, challenge to Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts in the 1994 Senate election); he would be continuing a family tradition (his father, Governor George Romney of Michigan, ran for president 40 years earlier); and he just seemed to look the part. I was for Mitt Romney before it was cool.
In January 2008, I drove from New Jersey to New Hampshire to help the Romney Campaign in Portsmouth a few days before the primary election. I made telephone calls and knocked on doors. Senator John McCain was gaining momentum in the state and we Romney supporters were doing what we could to get out the vote for Mitt. He would lose the primary and, a few months later, the nomination to McCain. The Senator would lose the general election in November.
In 2012, Romney managed to get the Republican nomination for president. Unfortunately, Mitt would suffer the same fate as McCain in the November general election.
After waiting six long years for Mitt Romney to be elected President of the United States, it was depressing to see him go down in defeat, especially given my belief that Mitt was the more qualified candidate. It was difficult for me to understand why so many Americans – an absolute majority – did not agree with me.
I share my Romney story because of the way many Americans react to President Donald Trump.
In the wake of the 2012 election, I had a few contentious discussions about the election results. One of them sticks out in my mind. I recall making the case that Romney’s track record of success (creating jobs in the private sector, turning around the troubled Winter Olympics, etc.) would be a real asset in a president. My sparring partner did not see this at all. He, like others I would speak to about the election, simply liked President Barack Obama. Really liked. It was no secret to anyone I knew that I did not share those feeling for Obama. Still, if I felt Obama was doing a good job as president, I might not vote for him, but I would understand why others would. I did not feel that Obama was doing a good job and had trouble processing why he was rewarded with a second term.
A few years later, something occurred to me that could, in part, explain the 2012 election, or at least my understanding of the outcome.
When I decide who to support for president, I want to know where the candidate stands on a variety of issues (taxes, immigration, the courts, reforming entitlements, etc.). Some issues are more important than others but the candidate who is most aligned with my thinking is likely to get my backing. Millions of Americans have a similar approach in selecting their favored candidate. Millions of other Americans have a different approach. Those Americans may also look for a candidate who generally agrees with them on a few issues. However, a great deal of weight is given to other factors. How the person speaks. How the person looks. Where the candidate went to school. The race and/or sex of the candidate can matter a lot. Where the person stands on social values.
Some of these and other similar considerations matter to me as well but I give them far less weight in my decision making.
Both types of Americans also give quite a bit of weight to political party, which serves as a kind of short hand in indicating values and policy positions.
In the case of Obama, his race was a net plus. It was not the only thing that helped him cross the finish line though. Unlike the speaking style of recent Republican presidents, he neither rambles or is syntactically-challenged. He has calm demeanor. He is in good condition and looks great in a suit. He has a lovely family. Obama is essentially America’s Prince William.
For many Americans, when they’re choosing a president they are principally voting for a head of state. They want someone who looks and acts the part of president. They want someone who can handle the responsibilities of the office as well but there is a high priority given to an ability to represent the country and having traits that suggest that the individual could be a something of a role model.
I like the idea of someone who can be an effective head of state. During times of national tragedy, having a leader who can help heal the nation is valuable. I, however, tend to prioritize getting policies enacted (or repealed). It helps a great deal to have a president who can effectively champion good public policy. Many Americans who feel this way, and vote accordingly, are principally selecting a prime minister.
In American politics, there is a clear divide between Republicans and Democrats. There is another divide that is essentially overlooked. That divide is between republicans and monarchists.
Nations like the United Kingdom have a hereditary monarch as their leader. In the UK, the monarch is the head of state, while there is a separate person who serves as prime minister, who is the head of government. After the American Revolution, the Founding Fathers created a republican form of government for the United States, in response to and in rejection of a monarchy. The President of the Unites States is both head of state and head of government. Though formally, we do not have a monarchy, many American voters view the presidency as an elected monarch.
Back to Donald Trump. Many monarchists see Trump as an obscenity. This is feeling is particularly intensified because of Trump’s immediate predecessor. Obama was seen by many as an elegant and intellectual individual who played the part of head of state well, even if there were sharp disagreements over policy. In contract, Trump, who is brash, often vulgar, wears ill-fitting suits, and has been branded by many as being a racist and misogynist, is intensely disliked by a big chunk of the American public, even among those who are sympathetic to his policy positions.
The monarchists want a president they can admire. The republicans want presidential accomplishments they can admire. Monarchists and republicans are not just different but often do not understand one another.
Though he has been in office less than two years, Trump is well-positioned to have a successful presidency. His slashing of regulations and the tax reform law he signed into law have contributed to economic growth and lower unemployment. He is nominating Constitutionalists to federal judgeships, including to vacancies on the Supreme Court. He appears to be having success in foreign affairs. Whatever concrete successes Trump has during his presidency, the left-of-center monarchists, who despise him, will never give him credit (“It was a trend that started in the Obama era.” , “Presidents don’t actually create jobs.”, etc.). However, the republicans who generally support him will be happy that the President has kept his promises and will be able take pride in the fact they voted for him in 2016, even if they originally had some reservations. For the right-of-center republicans, Trump is essentially America’s Winston Churchill.