Recently, columnist David Frum stated:
2012 is shaping up as an all-out battle between big donors and local activists, with the big donors coalesced around Romney and the local activists increasingly desperately shopping for somebody – anybody – else.
Others have phrased it differently . . . that Romney’s become “The Establishment” candidate, while many strong conservatives are looking for an “Anti-Establishment” candidate to rally around. Having seen this narrative develop over the last couple years has been both interesting and confusing to me, especially in light of what transpired in the 2008 GOP primary.
John McCain was the Establishment candidate last cycle, with Mitt running as a Washington outsider. Mitt even was viewed by most as “the Conservative Alternative” to McCain. Mitt garnered the endorsements of most conservative pundits, power-brokers, and politicians. Just a preliminary list included Sen Jim DeMint (SC), Sen. Judd Gregg (NH), Ann Coulter, James Bopp Jr., Sen. Orrin Hatch (UT), Judge Robert Bork, Sean Hannity, David Keene (Chariman of the American Conservatives Union), Paul Weyrich (founder of The Heritage Foundation), Bay Buchanan, Bob Jones III, Sen. Thad Cochran (MS), Laura Ingraham, Sen. Wayne Allard (CO), Rush Limbaugh, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (TN), Rick Santorum, Mark Levin, Rep Connie Mack IV (FL), Hugh Hewitt, Jay Sekulow, William Bennett, Lars Larson, Sherriff Joe Arpaio (R-AZ), Dennis Prager, Ross Perot, and Glenn Beck . . . an impressive list that serves as a “Who’s Who” of the conservative community.
By most accounts, McCain was not a good nominee for the GOP and did not run a particularly effective campaign. Others argue that no GOP nominee could have beat Obama under the circumstances of “Bush Fatigue” and a crashing economy. Whatever the reason, “The Establishment” woke up after the terrible losses of 2008 and realized that running a moderate DC insider with “get along” politics is no way to win the presidency (a la Bob Dole, John Kerry, and Al Gore to name just a few). There was quite a bit of “wish we would have nominated Romney” feeling going around at the time.
What happened is that “The Establishment” wisened up and moved it’s support for this cycle to the right of McCain by gravitating towards DC-Outsider Mitt Romney. But in a knee-jerk and rather childish reaction to mounting establishment support for Romney, many anti-establishment types (I’m looking at you Talk Radio and conservative blogsites like HotAir and RedState!!) have thereby rejected Romney due to said establishment support. It’s as if they’re saying:
“We cannot support any candidate that has the support of ‘The Establishment.’ We don’t care that he’s never worked in DC, that he’s too rich to be bought by lobbyists, that he’s the strongest candidate to match up with Obama (as poll after poll shows), nor that we supported him in 2008 and that he hasn’t done anything since that time to become ‘less conservative.” By darn, if ‘The Establishment’ likes him, we cannot accept him and we KNOW that SOMETHING must be wrong with him! (we’ll get back to you when we finally figure out what that ‘something’ is.)”
Now, some will be quick to say that the big difference this time is “RomneyCare” . . . that Mitt proved that he’s no true conservative because that legislation included an “individual mandate” on purchasing health insurance. Oh, you mean that law that was crafted in 2004-5 and passed in 2006 with the support of The Heritage Foundation and loads of conservatives and was the topic of discussion in the debates leading up to the 2008 election? The RomneyCare that didn’t seem to hamper your support and endorsement of him last time? Excuse me while I scratch my head for a while . . .
Observers have seen this anti-establishment community jump around in their preferred candidate between Sarah Palin, Chris Christie, and have even seen some flirtations with Donald Trump, Michelle Bachmann, and Mitch Daniels (the latter is ironically much more of a DC insider and “establishment” guy than Mitt ever was). Tim Pawlenty hasn’t seemed to catch on with hardly anyone, but many have him at the back of their minds just in case none of these other “anti-establishment” candidates pan out. It’s almost as if they know that broad-based support will eventually coalesce around Romney, but that they just can’t bring themselves to get on board yet because of pride. That they’re instead pimping and pumping up ANYBODY else they can think of in order to put off the inevitable time when they’ll have to swallow their pride and get back on the Romney train.
Yes, there’s no doubt that the needle has been moved to the right over the past four years. But there is no logical reason that Romney should not have the strong support from the conservative community that he enjoyed last time. Those orchestrating these machinations are being both prideful and disingenuous.