Paul Weyrich has apparently endorsed Mitt Romney. Romney has positioned himself to be the social conservatives’ candidate, and I guess some have decided that he is going to be the anti-Giuliani. In shoring up Romney’s position with this constituency, his social conservative supporters may believe that they are building up credit that they can exchange for concessions in the event of a Romney victory, but the symbolism of this is that some social conservative leaders are willing to embrace the most obviously opportunistic candidate because he says the right things during the campaign. Should the impossible occur and Romney is elected, social conservatives will receive lip service and then otherwise be discarded and ignored. I have said it many times before, but I’ll say it one more time: Romney cannot be trusted. His family life is to his credit, and certainly sets him apart from several of the other leading candidates, but his policy positions are notoriously fluid and determined by the advantage they give him. By placing trust in him social conservatives will eventually find that they have been taken in yet again.
Ross has a little fun at Weyrich’s expense because of this, but what this endorsement tells me is that the TAC article’s call for a “new conservative agenda” is not the standard by which the candidates were being judged. “The Next Conservatism” said:
From this it follows that the next conservatism’s foremost task is defending and restoring Western, Judeo-Christian culture.
I have noted this before, but it strikes me as particularly strange symbolism for someone interested in “defending and restoring Western, Judeo-Christian culture” to endorse a candidate who does not really represent the main religious tradition at the heart of that culture.
“The Next Conservatism” said:
Its agenda should include the abandonment of a Wilsonian foreign policy, which is promoted by neoconservatives and neoliberals alike, and a return to a policy based on America’s concrete interests. Following the disaster of the war in Iraq, the American people may again be open to a non-interventionist foreign policy, as advocated more than half a century ago by Sen. Robert A. Taft….The next conservatism prefers liberty to the trappings of empire.
Judging from his rhetoric at debates, Mitt “It’s About Shia And Sunni” Romney seems to have no intention of abandoning the current approach to foreign policy. His belligerence towards Iran is a matter of record. He appears to have absolutely no interest in a non-interventionist approach, and he has given no hint of dissatisfaction with “the trappings of empire.”
I might point out that endorsing a Northeastern venture capitalist is not exactly striking a blow on behalf of the “dormant conservative agrarian tradition.” It is also rather strange to endorse Romney when you have signed on to this statement:
Similarly, the next conservatism should include the issue of scale of enterprise. Conservatives have long recognized the danger big government poses to free markets. Is there not a similar threat from big business enterprises, especially when those enterprises are international corporations with no concern for the homeland? Is the market truly free when vast corporations can manipulate prices and politicians to destroy local businesses, both manufacturers and retailers, that are anchored in the local community and contribute to it in ways big companies do not? When everything for sale is labeled “Made in China,” Heaven decrees fair trade instead of free trade.
Romney is very keen to talk about the “challenge” of China and India, which he thinks can be met through increased “innovation and transformation,” but if there was any candidate who embodied the system of “vast corporations” and large-scale multinational capitalism it would have to be Romney. You won’t be hearing Romney talking about “fair trade” anytime soon–that’s Huckabee’s spiel, and we know what economic conservatives think about him.
The irony of the endorsement in light of this section is just too great:
Relatedly, the next conservatism should promote the return of trains and streetcars as alternatives to dependence on automobiles.
So you can see why endorsing Romney, whose campaign announcement stage at the Ford Museum was filled with automobiles, is the natural move.
Given Romney’s constant talk about “innovation and transformation,” this section also stands out:
Conservatism has always been cautious about innovations, and the next conservatism’s caution should lead it to think hard about where technology is taking us.
Who better to lead us into this new era of prudent caution than a man who seems to have never encountered a technological innovation he didn’t love?
Surely, some will object, you can’t realistically have a perfect candidate, and politics is the art of the possible. Isn’t this just another episode of the crackpot Larison insisting on a purist standard while the pragmatists are actually getting something done? I can already hear the complaint: “You’re making the perfect the enemy of the good (again)! If we’re not careful, Giuliani will take the nomination and then what will you do?” Well, that might be a more powerful criticism if “The Next Conservatism” hadn’t also said:
The next conservative movement will not be credible if it is led by people and institutions that sold out to today’s equivalent of Rockefeller Republicanism. Nor can support for policies such as Wilsonianism and reverse mercantilism be reconciled with the next conservative agenda.
So the “next conservative agenda” is irreconcilable with many of the things Romney (who, until about 2005, was a Rockefeller Republican himself) espouses, but somehow there has been reconciliation anyway. My purpose here is not to insist that everyone sympathetic to the ideas in “The Next Conservatism,” including its authors, support the same candidate I do. That is a prudential judgement about which there can and will be plenty of disagreement. Certainly, being realistic about the electoral prospects of a candidate is a reasonable thing to do (though why you would then back the one candidate who has the most built-in opposition among your own constituency, I’m not sure). What I do find puzzling is why, given the current choices in the presidential field, someone who supports these ideas would endorse a candidate whose positions appear to be largely incompatible.
Regardless of whether conservatives find “The Next Conservatism” appealing in all its particulars, it was still always going to be a mistake to endorse Romney, who does not even belong to the “previous” conservatism.
Update: Matt Continetti also notes that past recipients of the “Weyrich bump,” so to speak, have not turned out to be the eventual nominee. Considering who some of the nominees, that isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world. Still, for Romney that can’t be an encouraging pattern.
Matt Lewis continues with the “Romney is the social conservative alternative” theme.