Michael Medved’s recent opinion piece in the WSJ is frustratingly wrong. He has busted several conservative myths he thinks are at the foundation of the argument against Mitt Romney, but then he replaces those myths with a few of his own delusions, and never considers that the case against Romney is a bit deeper than he supposes.
Yes, it’s a myth that conservatives stayed home in any substantial numbers just because John McCain was somewhat of a RINO. (That’s Myth #1.) And yes, it’s a myth that “conservatism always wins”. (Myth #3.) But Medved has fallen into the familiar trap of thinking that everything is about ideology. It isn’t.
Mr. McCain lost because he performed more feebly than Mr. Bush among moderates…
That’s true, but why did McCain lose moderates? It’s not that McCain wasn’t himself a moderate. Voters actually perceived McCain to be closer to the middle of the ideological spectrum than Obama, then they promptly voted for Obama. And why did McCain lose more Latino voters than Bush had? It’s certainly not the case that the John McCain of 2008 hadn’t adopted positions considered favorable among Latino voters.
Medved’s Myth #2:
Republican elites disregarded the obvious public preference for more unequivocally conservative candidates and forced the nomination of the unpopular, Washington-tainted insider, John Mr. McCain, who proceeded to run a disastrous campaign that dragged down the GOP at every level.
I don’t even know where to begin with that one. So if the base AND the elites were against McCain, how is it that he ended up the nominee? It sure as heck wasn’t the outpouring of grassroots support.
Moreover, in the general election Mr. McCain ran ahead of the Republican ticket in every region of the country. He drew 7,750,000 more votes than did GOP candidates for the House of Representatives, winning 45.7% compared to 42.5% for his GOP running mates. Mr. McCain captured 49 congressional districts where the Republican candidates who ran alongside him lost. If GOP nominees had performed as well as Mr. McCain in those districts, the Republicans would have won a House majority of 227. and John Boehner would have become speaker two years earlier.
So… John McCain did so well among the moderates that… he received an epic beat-down and “performed for feebly than Mr. Bush among moderates”. Huh?
Yes, John McCain lost in large part because the economy was falling apart and the President at the time happened to be a Republican. But McCain completely conceded the number one issue facing America. McCain wasn’t able to make a persuasive case on the financial crisis because he didn’t have any economic chops, and wasn’t a visceral conservative able to fake it well enough. That’s a guaranteed loser.
Myth #3: Conservatism wins every time
Yes, this one is a myth. But you know what has a tendency to fail quite a bit? Milquetoast.
Let’s examine the surge of Newt Gingrich as the latest prominent “not Romney” candidate. Newt has a record of flip-flops and miscellaneous conservative sins that is comparable to Romney’s. He’s favored a federal individual health insurance mandate, even into 2011. He’s collaborated with Nancy Pelosi on issues of climate change. He called the Ryan budget “right wing social engineering”. He endorsed Dede Scozzafava in her special election fiasco. Most recently, he has endorsed a limited amnesty for illegal aliens that has some folks atwitter. I could go on, but those are most of the biggies.
So why, when Gingrich actually has a worse track record than Romney on the single most difficult issue Romney faces, is Newt the latest conservative alternative to Romney?
Because it’s not always all about ideology, even among the highly ideological primary electorate. The mushy ideological middle of swing voters care even less about explicit ideology. Republican reticence about Romney is based on the perception of him as being unable to make the case against Obama just as much as it is about ideology. If this were not true, Newt would not be performing as well as he is.
In a debate against Obama, does anybody really doubt that Newt would do better than Romney?
Medved cited Erick Erickson as a believer and propagator of myths. I don’t agree with all of what Erickson wrote, but here’s a relevant part of Erickson’s piece:
Voters may not like Barack Obama, but by the time Obama is done with Romney they will not trust Mitt Romney. And voters would rather the guy they don’t like than they guy they don’t trust.
Just think back to 2004. Voters didn’t especially like Dubya, but they didn’t trust Kerry. They knew where Dubya stood on the issues. And now, they actually “like” Obama even when they don’t like his policies.
Yes, Mr. Medved, we need to appeal to ideological moderates. But it doesn’t automatically follow that you do that by merely running an ideologically moderate candidate. You need to run a candidate who is capable of translating the conservative argument into terms tangible to non-ideological voters. If you run a milquetoast candidate, he will fall flat as so many have done before.
Is Romney such a milquetoast candidate? I don’t know. I actually think he has a chance against Obama, but the shallowness of Romney’s convictions does prompt real concern about his electability that cannot be easily dismissed.