Leon Wolf reminds us that Republicans have regularly nominated presidential candidates who have done less to ingratiate themselves to conservatives than Mitt Romney, arguing that this should temper or at least contextualize anti-Romney sentiment. Wolf concludes that “we should recognize that we as conservatives have successfully moved the party to the right over the past two decades” and not succumb to the “infantile madness” of opposing Romney.
It seems to me that if the best we can do is either Romney or fairly obscure conservatives (like ex-CEOs of mid-sized pizza companies), that should tell us to the limits of how far “we as conservatives” have “moved the party to the right.” Look, I’m a Massachusetts native. I voted for Romney in the 1994 Republican primary for Senate, the general election against Ted Kennedy, and for governor against Shannon O’Brien in 2002 — races where he positioned himself to the left of where he is now. I would have voted for him in a gubernatorial primary against Jane Swift had she been foolish enough to run and I would have supported Romney’s reelection in 2006. I did support Kerry Healey, the lieutenant governor who was to Romney’s left even then, for governor that year.
So I know something about settling and political reality. I also know that over that period Romney went from being someone who emphasized he was an independent during the Reagan years to trying to be a full-spectrum Reagan conservative, someone who described himself as a “progressive” in this decade to a “four-legged stool” movement guy, someone who with equal conviction defended both sides of the abortion debate, did not just flip-flop on abortion once but zig-zagged for over nearly two decades, and has generally acted as if none of this ever happened.
These are all very good reasons to wonder if conservatives are going to get much different results from someone who is telling them what they want to hear than the nominees in the past who didn’t even flatter them. (And remember that John McCain did flatter us.) Conservatives have had great success in pushing the Bushes and the Romneys to the right, at least rhetorically. They have also had some success in increasing the importance of candidate platforms and principles in primaries. But the fact that Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan are the only two movement conservatives who have been in a position to win the nomination since 1964 — both men who predated the conservative movement — and that only Reagan has actually been elected should tell us that maybe we have been doing something wrong.