In a syndicated column that was something less than objective, Matt Towery explains that “Romney has the most going for him in 2012.” According to Towery, “when staunch Republicans start considering the big prize—who can actually take the White House for the GOP—and when they see Romney ably debate Obama my guess is that even the most ardent Tea Partiers will be cheering Romney’s every word.”
There is nothing original about Towery’s badly hidden campaign ad. I’ve noticed the same clichés on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page and wherever else the banking community and other seekers of Republican patronage look to find their opinions confirmed. They insist that Republicans should nominate a centrist—even someone who’s been all over the ideological map—because that person is sure to win over the “moderates” and independents in a race against a president who’s been bad for business.
We are told the important thing is giving power back to the GOP. For that purpose they say we’ll need a “mainstream” candidate who won’t be perceived as being too right-wing. The GOP would do well to nominate candidates in the mold of Bob Dole, John McCain, and the two Bushes. That way they’ll regain the presidency for sure.
There are certain problems with this interpretation of reality. For one thing, the model in question seems outdated. GOP regulars may be inclined to vote for WASPs whom they imagine are like themselves, even if the candidate happens to be a Mormon. Republicans are also disinclined to shake the boat; and to the extent they can be described as conservative, it is only in the sense that they favor a comfortable caretaker, one who looks after their social programs and who goes to church on Sunday. Romney has the kind of image that core Republicans should adore.
But voters have not been able to generate enthusiasm for such candidates. Even less encouragingly, the conventional GOP presidential type has not been able to resist the siren call to bring democracy to distant shores. Bush, McCain, and (until very recently) Romney were (and/or remain) eager to jump into wars to uphold “American democratic values.” Not surprisingly, the younger Bush, whom Romney’s supporters consider to have been an admirable model, left office with a shaken economy and continuing foreign wars.
For another thing, the Dole-Bush-McCain look-alikes don’t energize the conservative base. They remind its members of the unpalatable candidates they’ve already voted for out of some misplaced Republican loyalty. This time they may not persist in that practice. Idea-driven voters on the right may vote for a third-party candidate, not for what GOP party bosses and the Rupert Murdoch press empire have put on their plates. Don’t underestimate the pent-up anger of the Tea Partiers, the anti-war right, and other conservative elements that Romney’s nomination would drive away from the GOP. These insurgents most definitely will not be swooning as they watch Romney “ably debating Obama.”
Chances are that Obama will clean Romney’s clock—and deservedly so. Although the former governor may be good at managing the Winter Olympics, he’s no great shakes as a pol. He was swamped in his 1994 Massachusetts senatorial bid, finishing 17 points behind Ted Kennedy. At that time Romney did not run as a social conservative but was pro-choice like Kennedy. In 2002 Romney made a comeback of sorts by winning the governorship against a weak Democratic opponent. But by 2006 he reasonably decided that he could not possibly win reelection against the current governor, the impeccably leftist black Democrat Deval Patrick.
As a consolation prize Romney decided to run for president. In the last six months of his gubernatorial career, he moved calculatingly toward the right. This glaring opportunism may hurt him in a presidential race. Although Romney cut the deficit as Massachusetts governor, he then introduced new financial problems by pushing through partly state-subsidized compulsory medical insurance. Romney’s swerving from the left to the right on all social issues when he decided to position himself for a presidential run was not a particularly smooth transition. His unprincipled politics were on display for all to see.
Towery, Peggy Noonan, and other cheerleaders are praising Romney for holding his fire in primary debates. Supposedly he’s preparing his forces to beat the floundering Obama. Romney may be holding back merely because he’s a boring, rote speaker and badly damaged goods whose only talents seem to be raising money from “moderate” moneybags and winning endorsements from WSJ columnists. Romney is also not quite sure what to do with his leftist past in Massachusetts. Although he wishes to keep it from being noticed in the presidential race, he also refuses to repudiate it. His politics are counterfactually presented as a consistent, principled pattern. But Romney protected illegals in Massachusetts, then ostentatiously kicked them out when he decided that he wanted to be president. He went from favoring compulsory, state-supported medical care to opposing Obamacare. I’ll give anyone odds the Dems will bury this guy in a presidential race by reminding the voters of how much he used to resemble them. When this happens, it’ll be poetic justice.