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Right Turn
Posted at 02:10 PM ET, 01/23/2012

Will the threat of Gingrich get Florida conservatives off the sidelines?

The “GOP establishment” — in this case, every elected Republican official and anyone who comprehends how deadly Newt Gingrich’s negatives are — will have no one to blame but the “wise” men of the conservative movement, should Gingrich win Florida and go on to win the nomination. This is not a group defined by ideology, by the way. The most devout right-wing conservatives have as much to lose as anyone.

And yet name Republicans seem weirdly uninvolved. After all, former Florida governor Jeb Bush could endorse someone. He chooses not to. But really, what’s the rationale for that? Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) could have endorsed a candidate or even done what the National Review did — issue an “anybody but Newt” endorsement. He chose not to. Maybe he feared he would have no impact, but unused political capital is worthless.

Oh well, if Newt wins Florida, the party can bring in someone else, the thinking might go. But that someone else would have to share the not-Newt vote with Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, neither of whom would necessarily leave the race.This is not to say a late knight-on-white-horse couldn’t gallop in, but it’s a tougher proposition than simply getting behind one of the Gingrich alternatives already in the race.

When I speak of the anti-Newt forces, I include tough right-wingers who correctly perceive Gingrich is not only unelectable but not very conservative. His hollering at the media seems to have obscured his decidedly unconservative record on everything from cap-and-trade to the individual mandate to earmarks.

He may be temperamentally explosive (the very thing that weakens his electability), which pleases the confrontational conservatives, who put more stock in attitude than in policy. But there is an argument to be made that Gingrich is to the left of every candidate still in the race on every issue but foreign policy.

If rock-ribbed conservatives have decided that a legislator is fine as a nominee, support for the individual mandate is a non-starter and limited government should be the principal focus of the party, it’s a bit of a mystery to be why this group would prefer Gingrich to Santorum. The conservative brand becomes Gingrich’s brand once he’s the nominee. Principle is replaced by whatever Gingrich thinks the market will bear.

And if you harbor the fantasy that a debater in chief is essential, in a general-election setting, is it really better to have someone who screams at the moderator and calls judges “religious bigots”? We’re talking about gaining support from independent voters.

So what is a stalwart conservative like Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) to do? What is the man most able to reach all segments of the GOP and who is regarded as the future of the party, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), to do to make sure there is a viable GOP to lead one day?

There is no shame in backing a candidate who eventually loses, The shame is in doing nothing while privately fretting that conservative ideals and the GOP may be irreparably harmed by Gingrich’s nomination.

By  |  02:10 PM ET, 01/23/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign, Conservative movement

 
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