One debate does not such a leader make. But at the very least, the fact that Romney’s strategy worked so effectively last Wednesday — that it made him seem mainstream and appealing while also winning him plaudits from almost every sort of conservative — suggests that the Republican Party can actually be led, and that its politicians don’t have to be prisoners of talking points and groupthink.
Indeed, the party may actually be ripe for such leadership. Cut through the Kabuki narratives on the contemporary right — the grass roots versus the establishment, the True Conservatives versus the RINOs — and you’ll find that what conservatism actually stands for, issue by issue and policy by policy, is more up for grabs than at any point since the Reagan revolution.
The Reagan nostalgia, the fears of looming socialism, the paranoia about a shiftless 47 percent: They are all symptomatic of a party on the brink of transition rather than one incapable of change. Republicans seem to be clinging to the past mostly because their leaders haven’t shown them what they should stand for in the present.
The only question, as we head into the final four weeks of the campaign, is whether Mitt Romney has realized this a little bit too late.
Whole thing here. The trick is to make change happen while making it seem like nothing significant is changing at all. As little use as I have for Romney, if he can tame the ideological passions of the GOP, or rather, channel them into useful conservative ends, I’d welcome him. My problem with him is not that he’s a “moderate” — I think he is — but that he is such a cipher that he’s willing to say anything he needs to say to get elected. The hotspurs in the party fear that this makes him a sellout; I fear that this makes him a pushover for the special interests within the party, i.e., he wouldn’t have the stones to stand up to factions within the GOP and say, “No, we are not going to start another damn war/have another tax cut that we can’t afford.”
To put it another way, my suspicion has been that he’s a Walter Mondale figure who thinks the role of a Republican leader is to faithfully tick off all the boxes on special interest group demands (except in Mondale’s case, I think he actually believed those things). Maybe — maybe — Romney has within himself the capacity to be more of a Bill Clinton figure. The difference, of course, is that Clinton was highly charismatic.