The presidential election is now essentially a two-man race between President Obama and Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor not only needs to convince the general electorate that he would be a better president than the current occupant of the White House, he still needs to assure large parts of the Republican base that he would govern as a conservative. The solid performance of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder shows why there isn’t as much to worry about as many conservatives think.
Mr. Snyder has a similar professional background as Mr. Romney and entered office last year dogged by similar questions about ideological consistency. A former venture capitalist, the top man in Lansing only ventured into politics after making a fortune in the business world. A large part of his success was derived from building thriving companies and turning around underperforming ones. Despite being a businessman in a business-oriented industrial state, Michigan Republicans were nervous because the novice politician didn’t have a track record on many core political subjects and Mr. Snyder seemed uncomfortable discussing social issues. These fears turned out to be unfounded.
Today, many Michiganders still aren’t sure where their governor stands on many issues, but it really doesn’t matter because he is maintaining a productive working relationship with the Republican legislature, where both houses are led by conservatives. In a little over a year, a state on the ropes has been transformed. Government budget cuts erased a $1.5 billion deficit, and tax cuts for small businesses and the abolition of the Michigan Business Tax have led to a decline in unemployment. On the social front, Mr. Snyder signed a partial-birth-abortion ban into law as well as legislation prohibiting taxpayer funds from being spent on domestic-partner benefits for state employees.
This Midwest storyline is relevant to the presidential contest because of lingering concerns about Mr. Romney’s positions, especially on social issues, and whether or not he cares about or even instinctively understands the conservative argument on many policy debates. This is mostly a campaign problem because the GOP standard-bearer needs to be able to effectively articulate why a conservative U-turn is necessary to prevent Mr. Obama from running our economy over the cliff. If Mr. Romney wins in November, there should be less anxiety about his governing ideology because much of the agenda will be driven by a conservative Congress. Like in the Great Lakes State, a numbers cruncher could take charge of fiscal challenges from the Oval Office while a U.S. House and (likely) Senate run by elephants can lead in other areas.
The Romney-Snyder comparison is compelling - and comforting. This cycle’s presidential-primary process was reminiscent of 2010’s Michigan gubernatorial primary that led to Mr. Snyder’s nomination. A packed field included numerous respected conservatives such as former Rep. (and current Senate candidate) Pete Hoekstra, former state Attorney General Mike Cox and Oakland County Sheriff (and former Senate nominee) Michael Bouchard. Conservatives didn’t unify behind one candidate, thus splitting the right-wing vote. The result was Mr. Snyder - the perceived moderate - came out on top. What ultimately mattered most, however, was that his campaign focused primarily on Michigan’s broken economy, financial mismanagement by his Democratic predecessor and how Mr. Snyder’s management experience could turn things around. This green-eyeshade approach offers a blueprint for victory for Mitt Romney as well.
Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times. He is coauthor of the new book “Bowing to Beijing” (Regnery, 2011).