The old lament about the legislative process contends that it’s like making sausage, in that while the final product may taste great, the process of making it can be downright ugly. In politics, that’s frequently the case too, as people make back-room deals for support and endorsements and future patronage jobs, and for conservatives, it all begins to take on a stench that has nothing in common with sausage. We see the deals after they’re made by the politicians we once admired, and they seem to be speaking on behalf of us, but at no time do they seem ever to ask our opinions, and there’s a presumption about our continuing support when they change directions. The recent story about Ron Paul is an example of this sort of thing, wherein what he may be angling for with his current campaign may not be the presidency, but something much less important. If that’s the case, it makes one wonder what other sort of deals may have yet to be brokered or revealed as we race on toward the nomination.
We all like our politicians to be pure in this regard, and whatever our political stripe or whomever our particular candidates, we want to know that they will stand staunchly and mostly implacable against political tides and trends rather than rushing out to meet them, in seeming surrender to what may turn out to be a political fad. This has been one of the knocks against Newt Gingrich, for example, as he sat on the couch with Nancy Pelosi to talk about “global warming” just a year before the ClimateGate scandal poked the theory full of ethical and logical holes over rigged science and nasty backroom politics. Of course, Gingrich is hardly alone on this score, and there are some who still claim to be aboard on the issue. For instance, Mitt Romney still insists Global Warming is real despite the mounting evidence of pseudo-science with a political agenda, but now he allows that perhaps it’s not man-caused after all. These sorts of shifts really drive conservatives crazy, because we see this as revelatory of a lack of clear principles, or worse, the tendency to become suckers for fads.
One friend asked me if it wasn’t true that they all make deals, and I told him that most do as a matter of practicality. For instance, Ronald Reagan accepted George HW Bush as his VP nominee after a bitterly fought campaign. You and I might have had some trouble doing that, because we’d have seen the elder Bush as part of the trouble the party faces, and it is true that by the end of the second term, the Bush clan’s influence was on the rise, and frequently caused trouble for Reagan. Nevertheless, he did so in an attempt to unite what had been a very divided party in another fractious primary campaign season. It helped bring the establishment a little way back into the fold, which helped to get their money for the campaign, but did not give them all the power they wanted. Would you say of Reagan that he had been too compromising, or would you contend like so many others that he had the wisdom of a statesman in choosing George Bush? The fact that he won doesn’t prove anything, except that his decision was at least as valid in electoral results as any alternative we might now imagine.
As we push forward into the campaign season of 2012, we’re beginning to see alliances form and take shape. We’ve seen a number of significant endorsements, and a few voter “recommendations,” but the season is young and I expect we will yet see many more. There are those who are scrambling to leap into bed with Mitt Romney, and while they may see it as an expediency they cannot avoid, voters will watch with great interest, particularly conservatives, to see who ultimately sides with whom. The irony in these situations always happens later, when it something happens along the way to upset the conventional wisdom now in force. For instance, at present, many see Romney as “inevitable,” but a few weeks like the last one, filled with gaffes and reversals will be enough to perhaps cause him to crash and burn. In that case, you must then wonder if we arrive at the convention with somebody other than Romney as the front-runner, what will happen to those who had earlier supported him? They will change to support the nominee in most cases, but they’ll be left to explain why they picked the loser first in such a scenario, calling into question the value of their support.
Conservatives at once hope the rare politicians they admire will choose wisely, and keep their powder dry until there’s no alternative but to speak up or go down to defeat, and we may soon approach that moment when a whole parade of endorsements either fall on Mitt Romney or go elsewhere. When that happens, it will be either a sign of an open war within the GOP or a sign that the battle has entered a nervous internal cease-fire in order to first defeat Barack Obama. In honesty, I hope for the former, because I’m not satisfied yet that we have a candidate who can withstand what Obama will heap on him, and I don’t think we’ve yet seen more than a small sample of what Obama will be willing to do. For now, Obama is focusing on Romney, and expending a lot of time, effort and money tackling him. If Romney turns out not to be our nominee, Obama will have chased along the wrong trail and that by itself will have given us something about which to laugh.
I think we shall see deals, promises, and all sorts of things happen before this primary season concludes, and while this is a sore spot for many conservatives who can smell a compromise of our principles from a mile away, at the same time we must at least consider the long view, and measure them each on the basis of their merits. We will ultimately be happy with some, and disappointed by some more, but it won’t matter if we win. On the other hand, if our nominee loses, today’s deal-making will cause no shortage of political blood-letting later, as the blame-game begins. Win, lose or draw, I believe that on the day after the election, we may see whatever war was paused within the party re-ignite with new fervor, and I must say that I am keen for that fight. Like most conservatives, I think there has been far too much compromising of principles along the way, and that has landed us in our current national predicament. Our movement needs to begin to reassert itself not only at the polls, but in elected office. We need to develop an under-card of newcomers who we can promote and move in, and those that warrant it will eventually move up, but along the way, there will be deals made. Make no mistake about it. The question for conservatives must be: What are the terms, and at what point does the palate-pleasing become something we can no longer stomach?