Josh Kraushaar of National Journal writes: “The newly-released NBC/WSJ poll shows Mitt Romney holding a commanding lead over the Texas governor in a head-to-head primary matchup, 62 to 33 percent. . . . And with Herman Cain’s struggles to get past the sexual harassment scandal, it’s just the latest sign that Romney is on a glide path to the GOP nomination.” Is that right?
Well, we return to the question that we had at the beginning of the primary season: Who is the viable not Romney conservative? Some might now look to Newt Gingrich. But his ideological heresy (e.g. global warming) is well known. His personal baggage remains a problem, although at least we know (or we think we know) all that there is.
It is of course possible that Rick Santorum or Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) could stage a comeback in Iowa, thereby lifting them into contention for the nomination. But they are both longshots.
It is because Kraushaar is correct, or many conservatives think he is correct, that so many conservatives, I suspect, are behaving so irrationally when it comes to Herman Cain. Conn Carroll wonders: “Why some conservatives are still defending Cain is becoming more and more of a mystery. He simply does not have a grasp of the issues to be taken seriously.” The answer I think is because, as I previously have surmised, Cain has become a symbolic repository of anti-Romney sentiment. Take him down and the anti-Romney types become desperate, if not unhinged.
It matters not at all that the anti-Romney forces don’t have a viable alternative. They’re mad, and they’re going to huff and puff, foretelling doom for the party and a Dark Ages for conservatism. Of course this is silliness, but silliness with an underlying message. A Romney presidency and a GOP Congress would be tonally different that the anti-Romney forces, but they might actually accomplish quite a lot. That means — oh, my — the loudest squawakers would be irrelevant? How can it be — they have hundreds of readers and friends who think just like they do?!
Those who would follow the talk radio show hosts to the barricades for Christine O’Donnell or accuse Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R- Ohio) of treachery to the conservative movement have shot their wad on pulling the party so far out of the Beltway that electoral success becomes irrelevant. The point, you see, is not to advance (incrementally or otherwise) the conservative ball but to remain forever aggrieved. Whatever deal is attainable and whichever candidate is acceptable to a broad cross-section of Americans are almost by definition unacceptable to those voices.
So in a sense, the fall of Cain, the collapse of Perry, and the potential nomination of Romney really are a catastrophe for these folks. Notice how their interests now diverge from the interests of the party in gaining governing majorities and the White House? They’re only happy if the most flawed candidates survive? Something is amiss. Indeed it is. You’ll hear plenty more of it, and some weird defenses of candidates, any candidate other than Romney, any candidate who couldn’t possibly win. The far right echo chamber is going to be screeching at fever pitch. The rest of the party, and the country at large, will be just fine.