National Review‘s endorsement of Romney is not all that surprising. It seems to me that they have come to the conclusion you would expect, given that they, like many others, mistake Romney for someone who is “conservative” and “viable.” As of right now, he doesn’t seem to be viable among Republicans outside New England and maybe Michigan, much less with anyone else, and he is probably the weakest general election candidate of the leading five. As for his conservatism, well, I have said many times what I think about his dubious claim to that label and I won’t repeat it here. Nonetheless, this show of support makes sense for NR, and given the “viable conservative” stadard they’re using it is hard to see how they could have realistically chosen anyone else. Thompson isn’t just non-viable at this point. He’s an embarrassment of sorts. The problems with McCain and Giuliani are obvious, and Huckabee’s galloping Gersonism should fill every conservative’s heart with dread. I’m proudly supporting Ron Paul, and I am confident he would be a far better President than the one we will wind up having, but I would be kidding myself and all of you if I said I believed he was “viable” in a “win the Electoral College” sort of way. The sorry thing about the GOP field this year is that you have some potentially viable candidates on one side and then you have the conservative candidates on the other side. Then you have Romney, who will, if nominated, lead the GOP to a defeat reminiscent of Bob Dole’s loss or perhaps even worse. You could make the argument that conservatives should ignore Romney’s blatant opportunism for the sake of winning the election, but I am telling you that Romney cannot deliver that victory. There is the “Mormon factor,” but it isn’t just that. After the last almost seven years of President Bush, the electorate will want someone trustworthy as President, and I don’t think Romney fits that description.
Responding to the endorsement editorial, Michael makes some interesting points in a new post, developing an idea that he mentioned to me the other day:
Among my small circle, we are now wondering: perhaps Romney is the best viable choice. Not for any of the reasons National Review cites, but for his obvious cravenness. After years of suffering under Bush’s politics-of-conviction, I begin to warm to a guy who seems like he would never allow his approval ratings to go into the 20s in order to maintain the delusion that American military power can transform the Middle East into Middlebury, Conneticutt. I know that a lot of people are looking to Obama or Huckabee for a politician they can believe in. I’d rather have a guy who has no core whatsoever, whose every belief is negotiable. The last thing we need in this country is steadfast leadership from a member of our political class.
I take Michael’s point, and we could certainly stand to have a Republican more interested in normalcy rather than nostrums, to borrow a slightly hokey phrase from the election that, if Brooks is to be believed, the 2008 cycle is starting to resemble. I don’t think people should “believe in” politicians, and not just because they will always be disappointed. It is fundamentally unhealthy for free people to “believe in” their governors. The one thing that keeps me from worrying too much about this aspect of the enthusiasm for Ron Paul is that I know that he would also embrace the sentiment of the Psalmist’s exhortation, “Trust ye not in princes.” Ron Paul makes it clear time and again that the campaign is not about him, but is focused on advancing constitutional principles and liberty, and it is the principles that make the campaign successful. With Obama and Huckabee, it is quite clear that personality and biography are driving almost everything, and these are the only reasons why people are flocking to their standards. Looked at this way, Romney is refreshingly uninspiring, but then most people who are regularly compared to robots would be.
The thing that bothers me about Romney, aside from the sheer dishonesty and naked ambition his candidacy represents, is that he is not a conviction politician, but he pretends to be one and tries to make his newfound convictions into one of his virtues. If he were just an opportunist who bends whichever way the wind blows, that would be one thing, but the insufferable part is that he expects you to acknowledge that he now has deeply-held convictions that give him the authority to ridicule other candidates’ records as lacking in conservative principle. The ad he has aired recently where he pretends that he was some tower of principled strength, never yielding to the pressures of the moment, is an insult to our intelligence. Granted, you typically don’t win elections by advertising your utterly unprincipled power-seeking, but it seems to me that an opportunist should try to center his candidacy around things that he can still back up with evidence. Romney actually does have some experience as a competent manager, and he should stick to that. He has insisted that he is also a thoroughgoing conservative, and this is simply incredible.