Conservatives are queasy about Mitt Romney, and with good reason. Questions remain about his commitment to, and even his comprehension of, conservatism. He has been distressingly flexible on principles most of us hold sacrosanct and openly admits that, as a young man, he would not have known any better had he been told that Burke and Hayek were "infielders for the Detroit Tigers." Moreover, Romney's role in foisting "universal health coverage" on the hapless taxpayers of Massachusetts renders him less than credible as an opponent of Obamacare. Nonetheless, in the absence of some truly bizarre turn of events, he will win the Republican presidential nomination this year. This means he will be the only thing standing between us and four more years of Barack Obama's incompetence, corruption, and contempt for the Constitution.
Thus, conservatives have a choice: get behind Romney in his quest to evict Barack Obama from the White House or impale ourselves on our principles. The latter course, I'm afraid, is what some conservatives are advocating. American Spectator alumnus Philip Klein, for example, advises in Conservative Survival in the Romney Era that "conservatives will need to exert pressure from the right so that Romney will run as a conservative." I respect Klein, and usually agree with him, but such reasoning is hopelessly naïve. It is the kind of thinking employed by some brides-to-be who believe they can cure the character flaws of their prospective spouses once the marriage ceremony is out of the way. Romney is simply not a movement conservative and no amount of hectoring from the right will cause him to run his campaign or govern like one.
Moreover, as Bill Kristol wrote a couple of weeks ago, it would be a mistake for Romney to even make the attempt: "Indeed, he probably has a better chance to win if he relaxes and runs as himself. Most candidates aren't very good at trying to be what they're not." It is certainly true that, as Klein writes in his eBook, "Romney is a bitter pill to swallow for many of us conservatives." It is also true that we are tired of having to "hold our noses" while we vote for ideologically inconsistent Republican candidates. But he goes on to point out a much more important reality: "we recognize the urgent need for a new president." Well, if conservatives take Klein's advice and join the Obama reelection team, the "news" media, and the long list of Democrat front groups in their chorus of Romney criticism, it can only reduce the chances that we will get "a new president."
We have seen this movie before. While it would be unfair to place all the blame for the GOP debacles of 2006 and 2008 on conservative kvetching, there can be little doubt that it contributed to those losses. During the run-up to the 2006 disaster, Bruce Bartlett published Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy and Peggy Noonan wrote a column in which she speculated that losing Congress might somehow be redemptive for the GOP. Noonan and a variety of other conservatives published similar works of genius about the heresies of John McCain during the 2008 election cycle and, collectively, they converted tepid enthusiasm into something close to despair. Ultimately, congressional Republicans and John McCain are responsible for their own defeats, of course, but conservative grumbling contributed to these losses.
In his eBook, Klein anticipates such arguments and attempts to counter them as follows: "In the coming months, those of us who criticize Romney from the right will be told we should save it until after November, or else we're just helping Obama.… Eventually, it will be that we can't weaken him before the midterm elections, and then later, that we have to loudly support him, or else he'll lose reelection to an even worse liberal boogeyman (or boogeywoman) in 2016." But this year, the price of undermining Romney will be far higher than the cost incurred by similar behavior in 2006 or 2008. To coin a phrase, this really is "the most important election in our lifetime." Four more years of Obama, unfettered by concerns about reelection, would be an unmitigated disaster for the nation and the world.
Klein writes, in the penultimate paragraph of Conservative Survival in the Romney Era, "[T]he long-term debate is moving in conservatives' direction. This makes it all the more important that conservatives avoid letting their brand become corrupted as part of a short-term desire to beat Obama." The problem with this reasoning is that an Obama victory in November will not be a "short-term" loss. The President isn't merely incompetent -- he is dangerous. His fiscal policies, based on an economic theory mugged by reality every time it has been tested in the real world, are virtually certain to produce another Great Depression. And his feckless foreign policy will result in an increasingly belligerent Iran armed with nuclear weapons, which it will use to gain hegemony over the entire Middle East and possibly perpetrate another holocaust.
Thus, for the good of the nation and the world, Obama must be sent back to Chicago in January. And, for all of Romney's many faults, no sane conservative disputes that he would be a far better President than "the One." Romney understands the free enterprise system that drives our economy and believes in American exceptionalism. That he has been dead wrong on some issues and has flip-flopped on others is small beer compared to what Obama will be up to during the next four years if reelected. Conservatives can't afford the luxury of insisting on ideological purity in 2012. Klein is right to be worried about Mitt Romney, and none of this is to say that conservatives should be gagged until November. However, the "reporters" of the New York Times, Washington Post and the other "news" media will be blazing away at Romney for the next six months. There is no need for conservatives to hand them ammunition.