Anybody But Mitt?

It’s been an interesting week here in New Hampshire, with two of our newspapers breaking new ground in presidential endorsements. Both the Concord Monitor and the Union Leader have published editorials saying, in essence, “anybody but Mitt Romney.”

The Monitor’s anti-endorsement is the easier of the two to dismiss. They are quite possibly the leading liberal voice in the state, and they’ve made it clear that they want a Democrat to win next November. Their condemnation carries about as much weight as would the Washington Times to publish an “anyone but Hillary” piece.

And that’s a fairer comparison than I first thought. The Monitor speaks both as a major paper in the neighboring state, but as the capitol city paper in the state Romney has spent so much time — but never been a resident. The Washington Times is based in Washington, DC, which is where Hillary Clinton’s true home — physical and ideological — despite her legal residences (past and present) in Illinois, Arkansas, and New York.

But the Union Leader’s piece… that’s more troubling.

The Union Leader is unabashedly conservative, and it is the only state-wide newspaper. It wields much power.

But nowhere near the power it had in the past. In its heyday in the 1970’s, it practically ruled the state. And that’s not figurative — the governor was Meldrim Thompson, a twang-speaking Southerner, a reverse carpetbagger, that the Union Leader’s publisher, William Loeb, created out of whole cloth and placed in the governor’s office. He almost never crossed the Union Leader, which praised him fulsomely when he did their bidding and scolded him on the rare occasions he dared cross them.

But time has taken its toll on the Union Leader. Thompson is dead. As is Loeb. Loeb’s wife, who tried to maintain her husband’s power, is also dead. Their hand-picked successors have retired.

And in the most profound blow, technology has stripped the paper of much of its power. While we still only have one statewide newspaper, we also now have a single statewide television station. (Discounting New Hampshire Public Television, of course.) WMUR, of of New Hampshire’s only two television stations (and the only one that is a network affiliate — ABC), is based in Manchester and holds a great deal of the former Union Leader’s political power.

So, what does all that mean for the Union Leader’s “anyone but Romney” screed? The paper built its power on conservatism — but not through any sort of ideological purity. It did not want to be the champion of conservatism, but the definer. For years, “conservative” was the label it put on any position it held, and it relentlessly forced all others to play by their rules. Dissenters were labeled as “liberals,” “tax and spenders,” “RINOs” (for Republicans In Name Only), and worse. It was a very black and white scenario — whatever it liked was conservative, and whatever it opposed was liberal. The same was true for people.

So, why are they going after Mitt Romney so vehemently? What do they hope to accomplish here?

This is just pure speculation, but it’s from someone who literally grew up reading the Union Leader since the mid-1970’s.

I don’t think it’s about Romney at all.

I think it’s about John McCain — and what he, in theory, could do for them.

The Union Leader backed Mccain in 2000, and they’re backing him now. He was pretty much written off a while ago, but is resurging. They’re hoping that their endorsement of him — coupled iwith their attack on Romney — will re-establish their position (at least in the minds of people, in particular New Hampshire residents and future would-be presidents) as kingmakers both on the statewide and the national level. They were also big backers of Ronald Reagan, as they will proudly tell you, and will gladly tell you just how essential they were to his winning the presidency. (The truth of that being eminently disputable, but they’ll claim it.)

As far as the particulars of the pieces, the detailed histories of Romney’s record… they’re all well-established. Romney is a Massachusetts politician. Massachusetts is the bluest of the blue states. Half the Democrats in any other state would be outcasts in the Bay State, labeled “reactionary” and “right-wing nuts” and “DINOs.” For a Republican to even survive in that state (currently the Democrats hold every state-wide office, the entire Congressional delegation, and over 85% of the legislature), let alone be as successful as Romney was, speaks volumes about their ability to get along, to draw support from both sides, to stand against overwhelming odds and get actual results.

I am not endorsing Romney. He’s definitely in my top three, but right now he’s not my favorite. (I’m not going to announce my endorsement — something I’m sure you’re all waiting for with bated breath — for at least a few more days, possibly a week or so.) But you simply can not diminish the man’s accomplishments. For all the “flip-flops” people cite, he has one unerring consistency: he gets things done.

I don’t think I can name a single Democratic frontrunner who can claim the same.

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