Another Perspective

Retire the Colors With Honor

Santorum and Gingrich should take one, or two, for the team.

By 3.26.12

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Maybe it is time for Senator Santorum and Speaker Gingrich to "take one for the team," to use the former's phraseology. I know that is easy for me to say, a Romney supporter since before the Iowa caucus.

Santorum recently came very close to saying that we might as well have President Obama in the White House than Governor Romney. I am willing to give the Pennsylvanian the benefit of the doubt that he was (fill in the blank) tired from non-stop campaigning, using hyperbole as a legitimate rhetorical device, misspoke or all of the above. He has, in fact, clarified this remark, saying he would never, personally, vote for Obama. Still, it is this kind of carping which is undermining chances of beating the President in November.

Watching this primary race at this moment in time, an objective observer would have to ask, "What exactly is the point?" Create a stockpile of sound bites that Obama can use against Romney? Provide some emotional or personal validation that the non-Romney candidates are not quitters? They are neither that small nor in danger of being perceived as lacking perseverance or stamina or political will. They have already proven themselves on all counts.

The GOP candidates contending against Mitt Romney should retire their colors with honor, forsake political blood-letting and join Governor Mitt Romney in accomplishing regime change in the White House. Take a cue from Robert E. Lee. It is time for reconciliation and unity.

As a social conservative and a Catholic, I understand the appeal Rick Santorum has for traditionally minded voters. I am one. He is right on the issues that matter and has an exemplary personal life and family. Yet, the former Senator from Pennsylvania is hardly a happy warrior in the Reagan tradition, presenting himself as the joyful incarnation of hope and renewal. His authentic social message is often caricatured -- "Kennedy, college and contraception," noted Charles Krauthammer, drolly, on Fox News -- and overwhelms his economic and defense priorities, the former being the most crucial for the general election battle. He lacks what James Carville famously called "message discipline."

Romney, like all human beings, does misspeak now and then, but he recovers quickly and has a history of learning and adapting. He has locked into solidly conservative social position over and above the many he has held for years. His victory speeches in Florida, Michigan, and Illinois were models of laser-like focus on President Obama's infirmities.

It is unfair to Governor Romney to call him a convert to conservatism, but if that is what some conservatives want to call him, shouldn't they welcome him to the cause?

Liberals seem to be more accepting. What do Ted Kennedy, Dick Gephardt, Jesse Jackson, and Al Gore all have in common? They were once pro-life and opposed abortion on demand to one degree or another. All of them flip-flopped on the issue and became or remained leaders in the Democratic Party, one of them a presidential nominee.

Conservatives need to emulate this ecumenism. Mitt Romney was the governor of an ultra-blue state. It is so much easier to wax eloquent on conservative issues deep in the heart of Dixie, or in the West, than in New England. Rick Santorum understands this given his summary dismissal by the voters of liberal Pennsylvania. Neither he nor Romney should be criticized for taking on such difficult political challenges. The Republican Party needs more candidates willing to make sorties into blue territory and survive.

What can I say about Newt Gingrich? He seems to have more than nine political lives. I have consistently underestimated his staying power. He is always interesting if sometimes over the top. But his whole campaign is basically the triumph of his immense personality and will power over political realities which are, ultimately, inescapable. His negative poll numbers are in the stratosphere. Honestly, is this the making of a national campaign to take back the White House? The question answers itself.

I have no doubt that Santorum and Gingrich, given their admirable tenacity and determination, can sustain an ongoing war of attrition, a veritable battle of Verdun, and continue bleeding Mitt Romney white. Super Tuesday concluded most of the southern phase of the GOP primary, and the kaleidoscope keeps turning in other regions encompassing states like Wisconsin, California, New Jersey, and New York. It may be a painful question for them to answer, but what chances do they have in those more diverse societies?

Do conservatives really doubt Romney when he says he would repeal Obamacare, cut spending and taxes, protect religious liberty, and appoint conservative judges? Do they really believe he will double-cross House Budget Chair Paul Ryan to whom he has pledged support of the former's plan? If the answer to that question is "yes," then, by all means, battle on to inevitable GOP defeat in the fall. If the answer is "no," it is time to bury the hatchet, close ranks and join Governor Romney's march on Washington.

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About the Author

G. Tracy Mehan III served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the administrations of both Presidents Bush. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.