I once had a history teacher who would have mild fits if we dared to refer to any chapter of history as “inevitable.” Sure enough, as the “inevitable” Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney watches his poll leads evaporate in Florida, I’m the one who feels a spasm coming on.
The primaries have proven unpredictable, entertaining, long and a little absurd. But have they showcased true conservatism? In 2009, the left-leaning New Republic ostentatiously proclaimed, “Conservatism is Dead.” Today, with the birth of the Tea Party, constitutionalism has become a kind of hobby, and countless Americans moan about federal overreach. I’m confident to say national conservatism is alive and well — but how about within the Republican Party?
While I consistently have qualms with the GOP — namely its willingness to march over the neo-con cliff and its willy-nilly spending habits during the 2000s — I agree with historian of American conservatism George Nash, who observes that the Republican Party has acted as the “imperfect vehicle of modern conservatism.” Personally, I would have cheered New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s no-nonsense style, Bobby Jindal’s intelligence or Paul Ryan’s commitment to budgetary enlightenment. But my old high school teacher wasn’t one for hypothetical history either, so I’m left with the current cast of characters.
Over the summer, Donald Trump was not-so-quietly boosting his reality show ratings. Simply put, he is an eminent domain junkie and pseudo-conservative whom the GOP would be wise to avoid hiring as a spokesman. Michelle Bachmann is a better protestor than leader, and similarly, Herman Cain ought to audition for promotional speaking, not the presidency. Because of Texas’ executive structure, governor Rick Perry deserves far less credit for his state’s economy than he claims (although the Texas story is more a tale of what happens when East Coast legislatures drive away their constituents). Alas, Perry’s debate embarrassments were a sad confirmation that Republican candidates sometimes speak in the same foolish ways late night comedians pray they will. As for the group still standing, Rick Santorum’s protectionist manufacturing proposals will clog the tax code further. And if he’s going to preach about social conservatism, he probably shouldn’t address New England college kids with a scowl — it’s simply not going to sell.
Nowadays, conservatives blush at the mention of Bush’s 2000-era “compassionate conservatism” campaign. Not only did President Bush’s strategy prompt the costly prescription drug entitlement and constitutionally-sketchy faith-based initiatives, but his campaign essentially implied that conservatism on its face isn’t all that compassionate. In fact, it called for a conciliatory adjective to soften the conservative blow. “Compassionate Conservatism” is akin to running on a cuddly capitalism ticket. But voters forget that the reason Bush positioned his politics as warm and fuzzy was because New Gingrich’s tenor as Speaker of the House was anything but. Gingrich’s rap sheet includes petty fights with President Clinton, affairs, lobbying for the very housing agencies conservatives love to hate and being censured by his own embarrassed Party in 1997. President Bush reckoned the future of conservatism rested on distancing itself from Gingrich — not nominating him for the Presidency!
That leaves Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. In all honesty, Ron Paul is an American gem. I love his candidness, his monetary policy and the way he fidgets during debates. His outlook on foreign affairs is just a little too wishful to seal the deal, but he’d make a great cabinet member.
It’s time for Romney to make his case. He needs to defend his career as a very good businessman and concede that his leadership in Massachusetts wasn’t perfect. No doubt, Romney used to be a moderate in a very blue state. I’m willing to allow him a change of heart, but he needs to say it with command, not as that guy who secretly likes to iron pillowcases. His debate answers in New Hampshire were genuine. He needs to reclaim that confidence and stop fretting that Gingrich is about to tackle the network moderator. Family isn’t everything, but it’s an awful lot. Mitt is truly a family man, and that should count for something.
Back in 2008, Romney used to advertise how much he loved data. Thankfully, he’s lost that persona. America’s not looking for an Accountant-in-Chief. In contrast, Romney decisively addressed a group of Occupy Wall Street protestors who interrupted his speech: “Let me tell you something. America is a great nation, because we’re a united nation,” Romney declared. “And those who are trying to divide the nation, as you’re trying to do here, and as our president is doing, are hurting this country seriously. The right course for America is not to try to divide America, and try and divide us between one and another. It’s to come together as a nation.”
In that moment, Romney was not some inevitable voice in the elephant party, but a compelling conservative. To win, he has to robustly represent both.
Danielle is a sophomore. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.