The usual theory to explain the antipathy in some right-wing quarters to Mitt Romney is that he is insufficiently conservative to earn their support as the Republican presidential candidate. That’s a respectable intellectual position, and those who, for example, think Romneycare is a disqualifier (Rick Santorum, for one) or who simply don’t trust him on social issues (the 150 pastors who met in Texas) have vigorously opposed Romney with intellectual integrity. But it gets a little squirrelly when fatal flaws in Romney (the individual mandate, for example) become excusable in another candidate, or anti-wealth rhetoric that would never be tolerated on the left becomes not simply understandable but virtuous when voiced against Romney.
My colleague Kathleen Parker suggests that something else is afoot: “Handsome, rich and successful, he is happily married to a beautiful wife, father to five strapping sons and grandfather to many. At the end of a long day of campaigning, his hair hasn’t moved. His shirt is still unwrinkled and neatly tucked into pressed jeans. He goes to bed the same way he woke up — sober, uncaffeinated, seamless and smiling in spite of the invectives hurled in his direction. What’s wrong with this guy? Nada. Which is precisely the problem.” She concludes, “It seems the question for voters is not whether they can forgive Romney his imperfections, which is most often the case in politics, but whether they can forgive his perfections.”
But are voters the problem or is it a segment of the conservative media that has a spur under its collective saddle? It’s telling that when I talk to activists who have backed other candidates they may not be thrilled with Romney’s rise, but I hear very little of the animosity that you hear and see among his media critics. (In fact many became resigned to Romney before the Florida primary.) You see even less of that in voter opinion polls or interviews.
So what gives? Perhaps it is frustration, especially among talk-show hosts, at not being able to derail Romney. Maybe some shrill bloggers understand that Romney threatens to prove that they are less in tune with Republicans than the “squishy” Republican candidates and officeholders. And maybe conservative political journalists have more in common with their mainstream counterparts than they’d like to admit — a suspicion of wealth, ignorance of the business world and a fixation on the candidates’ interaction with them. After all, Romney never really courted and flattered conservative pundits the way Newt Gingrich did (especially by bashing the mainstream media competition).
None of this is to say there isn’t strong and valid opposition to Romney in the conservative press. (Michelle Malkin, who recently endorsed Santorum, and staunch critics of Romneycare certainly fit this description.) But it’s hard to ignore the conclusion that for some in the conservative press there is an element of anti-Romney animosity that is not quite grounded in reason or ideological consistency — it is personal. And other than Romney’s being “handsome, rich and successful,” as Kathleen put it, it’s really hard to fathom where it comes from.