Mitt Romney is a political idiot, and his incompetence is placing in jeopardy the ability of our side to defeat President Obama.
I don't know whether Romney is the only candidate in the current GOP field who can beat Obama. In my view, it is possible that any of the entries could defeat the president. It is also possible that none can. No one knows whether any of the current contenders is "unelectable".
But Romney in particular seemed to have great potential as a candidate, despite his past sins against conservatism. He was the long-heralded front-runner, the man with the resume, top flight political and business acumen, looks, organization and money. It is not good for the cause to see the Romney campaign careen towards disaster, with the prospect that Rick Santorum, once dismissed as a marginal joke, could defeat Romney in his native Michigan. A weak and embarrassed Romney, still very much a possible nominee, will not serve us well come the fall.
Everyone knows Romney needs to "connect" with conservatives. It's plain as day--so why can't he just do it? Even if Romney is a principle-free shape-shifter, winning conservative support under the present circumstances should have been a breeze. Read the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Listen to Larry Kudlow's radio show. Take a glance at a Krauthammer column. Lift some ideas, add some flowery rhetoric, bake for 15 minutes and, wa-la, you've got a conservative message.
Instead, in addressing the conservative issue, Romney talks incessantly about two things: himself and his past. In the first place, conservatives are not interested exclusively, or even substantially, in one's resume. Yet Romney speaks about his background constantly and with emphasis. Romney has an impressive resume. Great. Unlike liberals, we admire people who have earned success.
But there are thousands successful businessmen whom conservatives would never support for political office, such as, for example, Warren Buffet. There are plenty of rich liberals who are good managers in their respective industries. In the end, Romney's resume has nothing to do with conservatism. His resume is not a principal or an idea.
Romney also tries to make the case for himself as a conservative by rehashing his record as Massachusetts governor. This tactic is simply ridiculous. No one believes that Romney was a conservative governor. At best he was a moderate, resisting the most frivolous excesses of the Massachusetts liberals. But every time he recites his talking points--how many bills he vetoed and so forth--conservatives shake their heads or ruefully chuckle. When Romney evokes the past, we think mainly of his remarks describing himself as a "progressive", disowning Reagan, lauding Ted Kennedy and, of course, we remember his signature achievement as governor, Romney-care.
So it's not all together wise for Romney to forever drudge up the past, as if he is endlessly seeking to validate the record of which he says he is so proud. Moreover, we conservatives don't really care about the past at this point. We are looking for a leader to challenge the president on the issues of TODAY and defeat him NOW.
As such, Mitt Romney needs, more than anything else, a conservative theme. Many have offered him ideas, but the best was sketched out by Gov. Mitch Daniels in his brief rejoinder to the president's Castro-like State of the Union.
The theme might be titled "Progressive Conservatism." Conservatism is the path on which the nation will fully and finally embrace the 21st century. Conservatism will make us a competitive leader in the modern world economy. It will overhaul the long out-dated programs of the welfare state to save them from bankruptcy and will bring to bear upon them the lessons of the eight decades of history that have elapsed since the dawn of the New Deal. It will strengthen the Pax Americana, not destroy it. It looks forward with optimism, with faith in free individuals.
The liberalism of Barack Obama stands athwart history. It is dour and pessimistic, looking to a mythic, vanished past. It seeks some way, any way to preserve in stone the ideas and programs of the mid-twentieth century, ignoring the reality of the society in which we now live and the nature of the problems we now confront. It wrings its hands and bemoans the world's unfairness. It is hopeless--at least without an all-powerful state to save us from ourselves.
To combine two famous political remarks: It's the vision thing, stupid. Bizarrely, Mitt Romney has taken to saying that he didn't learn conservatism from readings great conservative thinkers. He might want to take up a book or two, or perhaps peruse the offerings on Real Clear Politics one morning, and then consider why it is, exactly, that conservatism is superior to Obama's statism.
More on Conservatives as Progressives in the Next Entry....