Readers and colleagues sometimes ask me what Mitt Romney would have to do to win over some on the right. After all, he has given the hawks all they could want on defense spending, China policy, Aghanistan and Iran. He’s to the right on national security of every other candidate. (Newt Gingrich has decided he’s now against the Libya war and wants to “rethink” Afghanistan.) On domestic policy, conservative wonks pestered him to be bolder. And, lo and behold, he came out with the most specific plan on Medicare and Social Security of any candidate, earning praise from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the right’s matinee idol. And yet conservatives continue to chase like schoolgirls after others, convinced they’re not really bad to the bone and forgetting the many times they have left them high and dry.
The strategy of the anti-Romney forces might be justified if they actually had a viable alternative in the race. But are rational conservatives proposing Herman Cain? Do they really think Texas Gov. Rick Perry (at 8 percent in Gallup) is the guy to beat Romney?
Well, the primary process could deadlock. We could have a brokered convention. Oh, puh-leez. The “alternative conservative” was a viable plan so long as Ryan and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were sitting on the fence. But now?
The anti-Romney forces would do better to get behind Rick Santorum (who actually is knowledgable and solidly conservatives) or Rep. Michele Bachmann (who’s gotten better since her “HPV vaccine causes mental retardation” moment). They are defensible choices on ideology and preparation for the presidency.
But I’m stumped as to why they’ve latched onto Gingrich. Two examples today suffice to show the folly of this gambit. First, as Ramesh Ponnuru points out, Gingrich is hardly the purist on stem-cell research. That can be true of virtually any topic. He is a purist in only one regard: He thinks government is clever enough to figure out how to stimulate the housing market, pick energy winners and losers, and back the best technologies. He is a big-government fellow.
Second, Gingrich made an appearance on Bill Bennett’s radio show today. It was another exercise in self-delusion by Gingrich. On his attack on Ryan’s Medicare plan he insisted, “Only after you and I had that direct, head-on . . . I think . . . pretty blunt conversation with each other that I had to hang up and said, you know, I got to rethink this. I clearly wasn’t communicating what I meant to communicate.” This was all a misunderstanding? He didn’t understand his “right-wing social engineering” jab would be taken by conservatives as a jab? He’s too smart (he always tells us he is) to make that argument credible.
Even now, he can’t bring himself to express regret and remorse. He also told Bennett that he wasn’t lobbying for Freddie Mac. “First of all, the money wasn’t paid to me, it was paid to Gingrich Group. . . . My job was strategic advice. . . . We were very strict while I was there, that Gingrich Group did no lobbying of any kind and I personally did no lobbying of any kind.”Money was just paid to my company? We know, however, that he was not there to help sway Republicans or at the least not to lobby against Freddie.
And finally, on ethanol subsidies, he admitted flat-out: “I am for American energy of all kinds, period . . . If my choice is a billion dollars to Iran or a billion dollars to Iowa or a billion dollars to Saudi Arabia or a billion dollars to South Dakota, I’m going to pick Iowa and South Dakota over Iran and Saudi Arabia every time. “ He means he is going to get the government to pick, not simply allow the free market to operate.
Conservatives who can’t bring themselves to support Romney are entirely entitled to their view. But they should be honest that they have not yet identified a credible conservative alternative.