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Man Up

I’m genuinely puzzled by arguments like this one from Jennifer Rubin that Republican “leaders” need to intervene in the race to stop Newt Gingrich from becoming the nominee. It’s like she hasn’t been paying any attention at all to the last three Republican primary contests.

In 2000, the GOP party leadership successfully gift-wrapped the nomination for George Bush, and he went on to basically blow the general election contest. In 2008, the party leadership cast about looking for anyone other than John McCain who could be the anointed nominee. Rudy Giuliani basked in the bulk of that leadership’s adoration – and wound up being a non-entity on the campaign trail. Fred Thompson could barely rouse himself from his pastoral torpor. And Mitt Romney . . . well, kind of like this time, Romney couldn’t get actual voters to vote for him in sufficient numbers. The leadership reluctantly closed ranks behind McCain – and the party rank-and-file still never really reconciled themselves to the fact that they had a nominee they didn’t want. And now, in this campaign season, the party rank-and-file have overwhelmingly supported anybody that the party leadership deemed unacceptable or simply unlikely: Paul, Bachmann, Cain, Santorum, and of course, Gingrich. (Perry was the only establishment-acceptable candidate to get a burst of popular support, and that burst lasted about thirty seconds.)

News flash: the Republican party hates its leadership. The biggest millstone around Romney’s neck in this race has been that he’s tried to win by making himself into the establishment candidate. He’s the only one to have racked up any significant number of endorsements. Once Rick Perry revealed himself to be . . . Rick Perry, he was the only remaining candidate that the party leadership considered remotely plausible as a nominee. If establishment support could do anything to help him, it would have done it already.

Moreover, the big problem with Mitt Romney’s “Romneyness” is that he seems like a manager rather than a leader. To put it very crudely, he just doesn’t seem like an alpha male. Gingrich, by contrast, is a walking catalog of everything that is wrong with alpha-maleness. But for better or worse, Americans want to believe that their President is a leader, captain of his own ship, commander of his own destiny. Romney is an organization man. Having the organization come in and try to muscle him to the top will only provoke a greater rebellion, which in turn will damage the organization more than it will help Romney.

If Romney wants to win this, he has to win it. Himself. By making the case for himself. This isn’t about having a “vision” for the future of America or of the GOP – what on earth is Gingrich’s vision? And it certainly isn’t about comparing resumes – and, in the end, that’s all talk about “electability” is. It’s about him. Presidential politics in America has gotten absurdly personal, but that’s just a fact of political life. Romney needs to convince first the Republican electorate, then the general electorate, that they would follow him.

In other words . . .

about the author

Noah Millman, senior editor, is an opinion journalist, critic, screenwriter, and filmmaker who joined The American Conservative in 2012. Prior to joining TAC, he was a regular blogger at The American Scene. Millman’s work has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Week, Politico, First Things, Commentary, and on The Economist’s online blogs. He lives in Brooklyn.

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