Why is it that every time somebody in Congress proposes a new way to attack our national spending crisis, Mitt Romney becomes more scarce than a California condor? That’s the way it seems to go whenever there’s an opportunity for Mitt Romney to commit to something. He’s trying to win the GOP nomination by avoiding controversy, but also by avoiding being pinned down on any issue. Where he does take a solid stance, he seems first to assemble a committee to examine all of the ramifications. People wonder why Romney can’t connect with solid conservatives, and I will tell you that this is exemplar of the problem: Conservatives expect a Republican candidate like Mitt Romney to know what he thinks about an issue once the details are known, because he already has established principles that define his answer to the issue or question at hand. This is where Mitt Romney continues to fail the conservative “sniff test:” He seems to have no core upon which he can rely to provide him the correct answers.
I don’t expect moderates to understand this, because in point of fact, they’re not politically oriented in such a way as to perceive this important distinction. Theirs is a pragmatic view that admits the inviolability of no principle. Put another way, for them, there is nothing that is outside the realm of negotiations. The laws of economics? Subject to political necessity, they’re irrelevant. The US Constitution? Subject to the political expedience of the moment, that too goes out the window. In short, they’re predisposed to view issues first from a political perspective rather than a decidedly philosophical one. This defines the behavior of moderates, including Romney, and it’s why without a focus group, or at least an advisory committee, Romney will not take firm stands on issues.
Let us try to see this from both sides of the clear divide. I am a conservative, with libertarian economic leanings much in line with such scholars as the late Milton Friedman, or professor Walter Williams, to name two. For me, the question of government-run or government-subsidized health-care is a no-brainer, and it translates immediately to my polity. I hold the principle that the best determinate player in any economic matter is the consumer, who should always likewise be the payer. My view of such programs as Medicare, Medicaid, and Obama-care is roughly this: I oppose all of them because they are compulsory systems that decide for people how best to dispose of their income and wealth. These are the facts, and I can’t get beyond them long enough to bother much with the nuances of any of these programs. They’re all intrinsically evil, whatever political excuses one might make for them. They are all enforced by coercion and its threat, and that is enough to damn them irrevocably in my view. I don’t need a focus group. I don’t need an advisory committee. What’s wrong is wrong whether one person or one-hundred million persons support it.
This is not the view of the moderate, however, as their view is highly politicized, and almost always stealthily self-serving. Theirs is a view that a majority will ultimately rule, so it’s suicidal to fight against them. This is the sniveling view of those who falsely believe that humanity is collectively too petty to discern the difference between their long-term enslavement and their short-run benefit. They aren’t really interested in leading opinion, instead taking it as it is, but figuring out how to massage their public relations to best shape public opinion. Moderates like Mitt Romney are obsessed with gauging opinions before making decisions, because they are unfailingly terrified of “being on the wrong side” of an issue, and by “wrong,” what they mean is really “politically unpopular.” They make great pretense about the needs of the people, but this is mere posturing for the sake of their own political hides.
This is the same crowd that will cheerfully point out that their way prevails, as evidenced by the fact that they are in power, where principled conservatives seldom win on a scale larger than a Congressional seat. Notice that even their view of winning is jaded by the same notion. They reference not right or wrong, but wins and losses. This is a highly practical view, but it’s also deeply dishonest absent a guiding philosophy. That guiding philosophy is what is absent from the likes of Mitt Romney, at least publicly. He tells us he is a capitalist because he worked at Bain Capital, but his conduct as Governor of Massachusetts evinces nothing but statism. What conservatives do not perceive in Romney is a man rooted in fundamental beliefs that will not yield, and this is a source of great consternation for conservatives, having suffered through the likes of Bush and Bush.
Conservatives were never altogether happy with either George the elder or the younger, except perhaps in terms of national defense. Even in that arena, however, the nation-building tendencies of both men remains the source of much dissension among conservatives. Conservatives rightly view the United States military as an instrument of national defense, and believe that “nation-building” is a function in which it has no proper role. The prospect of “nation-building” is a problem for inhabitants, and not for foreigners arriving to impose their own forms of governance upon them. The conservative sees little valid purpose in expending American blood or treasure on the account of some foreign country with which we are involved solely because it had posed some threat to the American people, who had felt obliged to remove it.
Moderates, on the other hand, can make a case on a different basis, and it flows from their basic view that there exists a political solution for all problems. This is not the case, in fact, and it’s why after more than a century of dominance by progressives in the Republican party machinery, the party is in such thorough disarray. Any conservative who rises is quickly sent packing over the first inkling of a flaw, or the first hint of intractability on any issue. The conservative base of the GOP is tired of being treated as second-class citizens, and this is why Romney’s troubles continue. If conservatives felt he was a solid conservative, he wouldn’t be experiencing this difficulty, but then again, he wouldn’t have the support of the party’s establishment either.
I’m afraid we may be shafted again, with another tepid Republican nominee, who must spend a good time gauging issues carefully before taking a stand on anything. It’s the tendency of the Republican establishment to advertise such people as “conservatives,” hoping to fool the base. Some conservatives may give up in desperation now, but it’s not an endorsement of Romney so much as a shrugging of shoulders to what has been portrayed and pushed and engineered as the “inevitable” nomination. Even conservatives become fatigued, but in such an important election cycle, you would think with all that is at stake, more would make a firm stand. Of course, there are plenty of conservatives who do, but perhaps not enough yet to stem the tide.
If Romney wavers or missteps, he may find himself in free-fall, and his tepid and careful manner on the campaign trail is evidence that he knows it. He’s just one serious gaffe from falling by the wayside, but his entire campaign is engineered to avoid one. Expecting Romney to change his stripes at this late date is a bit delusional, but the media keeps pressing the theme that he’s connecting better with conservatives despite all evidence to the contrary. Perhaps it’s time we ask the GOP establishment if they will commit to supporting our candidate next time, or whether they will insist upon putting up another cookie-cutter candidate or another Bush-clan connection.
After all, there’s no sense in waiting until 2015 to start thinking about who will be Barack Obama’s successor. It likely will not be Mitt Romney.