Mitt Romney, meet Bob Ryan. To loosely borrow a construct from Frank Sinatra, if you can make Bob Ryan vote for you in November, you can make it anywhere.
But it’s a big if, and it might be the key to a Romney victory.
Bob is a Las Vegas resident, a former Nevada state senator and staffer for U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt. He’s also one of an unknown number of disaffected, fiscally conservative Republicans put off by what he perceives as a long line of faux conservatives put up for president by the GOP.
Before there was a Tea Party, there were the Bob Ryans of American politics, looking for a post-Reagan standard-bearer to bring fiscal sanity to Washington, D.C., by curtailing spending, cutting taxes and reducing debt.
Ryan’s critics in Nevada politics and media called him an “ultra-conservative.” He rejects that.
“First, I never heard anybody called an ‘ultra-liberal.’ Second, it is sad that when all a person wants is a balanced budget they are called ‘ultra-conservative.’ Don’t call me names, give me an argument.”
With Mitt Romney nearer to the Republican nomination, we will start seeing assessments of the so-called “enthusiasm factor.” President Barack Obama will have his woes in that department, but so will Romney.
George H.W. Bush. Bob Dole. George W. Bush. John McCain. And now Mitt Romney.
“Which one of those is a fiscal conservative?” Ryan asks plaintively. “None of them,” he answers.
Bush I raised taxes after saying “Read my lips. No new taxes.” Bush II pushed through a Medicare prescription drug plan that wasn’t paid for and then got us into a war we couldn’t afford. Supporters said we would be paid back with Iraqi oil. “That didn’t happen,” Ryan laments.
He thinks Romney is cut from the same cloth.
“You have to judge people by what they do, not what they say,” he says.
When Romney debated Ted Kennedy for a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, Romney positioned himself to the left of Kennedy. “Any conservative who saw that debate couldn’t vote for Romney,” says Ryan.
Romney criticized Reagan. He financially backed liberal Paul Tsongas for president. Later, as governor of Massachusetts, he supported gun control and instituted RomneyCare.
“And that’s fine,” says Ryan, “but don’t come back and tell me you’re now a conservative. There’s no way you can claim that.”
Ryan says he could vote for Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum for president at this point, but “they’re not my first choices.” He finds Rep. Ron Paul a fair candidate, but his isolationist foreign policy views disqualify him.
Ryan admits that at this point, neither Gingrich nor Santorum will likely win the nomination because they can’t match Romney’s money and organization. Ryan’s first choice for GOP standard-bearer would have been Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan (no relation) followed by Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.
But why take that out on Romney, who will certainly govern more conservatively than Obama?
“How do you know Romney is more conservative than Obama?” Ryan snaps back. Romney always talks about his business experience, but he never talks about what he did in office.
“I don’t want to see words. I want to see action.”
So Ryan says he’s contemplating a protest vote in November, and he predicts many conservatives will do the same or simply stay at home.
“The Republican Party will never change if Romney is elected. The establishment always gravitates to ‘the most electable,’ and that’s the most liberal.”
If conservative Republicans continue to do that, Ryan contends, “the country will go down the toilet.”
So, Mitt Romney, allow me to introduce you to Bob Ryan and wary fiscal conservatives like him. You, sir, have your work cut out for yourself.
Sherman Frederick, former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, writes a column for Stephens Media. Read his blog at www.lvrj.com/blogs/sherm.