By almost any measure, Barack Obama’s presidency has been a failure.
So, why (in an election cycle ripe with opportunity) do conservatives seem hell-bent on committing political hari-kari?
Why are so many conservatives out to destroy Mitt Romney — the only candidate with the unusual combination of intellectual firepower, professional experience, and good old-fashioned competence needed to resuscitate the economy and challenge the liberal welfare-state paradigm?
In part, it’s a control issue. Conservatives are inherently anti-establishment. And because Romney is the establishment favorite, some movement conservatives reflexively view him as suspect.
Of course, to some GOP voters, resistance to Romney is about more than control. It’s about feeding a fantasy of ideological purity.
Writing last week in the Boston Herald, syndicated columnist George Will attacked Romney as an ideological contortionist unworthy of conservative support.
Will’s central point — that, to win in 2012, the Republican nominee will need to draw a sharp ideological contrast between him or herself and Obama — is correct. The eventual GOP nominee must be bold and visionary — someone willing (in Cold War parlance) not only to “contain” big government but to “roll back” its reach.
But Will is wrong to attack Romney as not up to this task. To the contrary, Romney is uniquely suited to the challenge.
As a former venture capitalist, Romney knows that America’s turnaround won’t be painless. He understands, at a practical as well as ideological level, the entrenched inefficiencies in our current system. And he is the one candidate who has both the desire and the ability to negotiate tough budgetary choices and significant entitlement reform.
Take Romney’s recent comments on foreclosures. He was strongly criticized for saying that we need a housing market correction and that lenders should be allowed to foreclose on underwater mortgages. It was a politically risky thing for a candidate to say. But he was right. The government cannot afford to bail out everyone who gambled and lost in yesterday’s housing boom. Nor should the government set precedents that establish incentives for risky consumer behavior. Saying so took guts and demonstrates that, when it comes to economic reform, Romney is willing to make tough choices in order to set us on the road to recovery.
To support his claim that Romney is weak, Will recycles the media stereotype of Romney as flip-flopper.
A closer analysis, however, reveals this to be an unfair charge. A nuanced policy discussion (about climate change) is not inconsistency (“humans may contribute somewhat to climate change” and “we don’t know the primary cause of climate change” are not exactly contradictory statements). And a one-time change on abortion from pro-choice to pro-life is not a lack of principle, but evidence of political and moral growth.
Conservatives who are uncomfortable with Romney’s perceived liberalism on social issues, need only look to Romney’s life story for reassurance. A loyal family man and former Mormon bishop, Romney’s biography reads like a profile in cultural conservatism.
Many conservatives talk the talk on social issues, but Mitt Romney is the rare politician who seems to have consistently lived those values. And although Romney is often criticized as too stiff or too square, it is precisely these qualities that should reassure conservatives that he has the moral values and conservative instincts they seek in a leader.
The path to victory will not be paved by those who sit on the sidelines waiting for the second coming of Ronald Reagan. In 2012, conservatives like George Will would do well to remember Voltaire’s warning not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.