Both major political parties consist of coalitions that continually strain against each other within the party. But they agree on enough issues to create viable parties. The GOP consists of what is broadly defined as a conservative coalition. But there are different brands of conservatives. They agree on some matters and disagree on others.
The Editors of the National Review, a renowned conservative publication, note that any viable GOP candidate must be able to keep the conservative coalition together (see here). They suggest that the best thing to do is to look at which candidates could accomplish that and then determine which of those has the best chance of winning the general election.
In the NRO Editors’ estimation, only three candidates would not significantly divide the conservative coalition: John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson. While each of the others has some highly desirable traits, the NRO Editors judge that any of them would divide the coalition. The most viable of the three that are thought to be able to maintain party cohesiveness, the editors contend, is Mitt Romney. They have, accordingly, endorsed Romney for president.
The case the NRO Editors make for Romney is that he is “a full-spectrum conservative: a supporter of free-market economics and limited government, moral causes such as the right to life and the preservation of marriage, and a foreign policy based on the national interest.” He is highly competent; an important trait, especially at a time when it is so starkly absent in the current administration. He has more executive experience than McCain and Thompson combined. He’s the only candidate that has some executive success dealing “with the cutting edge of social liberalism.”
Romney doesn’t get a pass on his drawbacks, but the NRO Editors think he’s the best the GOP has to pick from. They note that “Romney has been plagued by the sense that his is a passionless, paint-by-the-numbers conservatism.” They call on him to let his passion shine through more often. Although his foreign policy experience isn’t as great as McCain’s or Thompson’s, his positions are substantially similar.
Regarding Romney’s position changes on conservative issues, the Editors say, “Whatever the process by which he got to where he is on marriage, judges, and life, we’re glad he is now on our side — and we trust him to stay there.” They admit that Romney will still have to convince others of his sincerity. They also admit that other “fine conservatives” have come to a different conclusion on whom to support for president.
The NRO Editors exhibit their respect for Romney when they write, “Romney is an exemplary family man and a patriot whose character matches the high office to which he aspires.” Comparing Romney with the current occupant of the White House, they say, “More than the other primary candidates, Romney has President Bush’s virtues and avoids his flaws. His moral positions, and his instincts on taxes and foreign policy, are the same. But he is less inclined to federal activism, less tolerant of overspending, better able to defend conservative positions in debate, and more likely to demand performance from his subordinates.”
With a little more than a month and a half until I vote in the primary elections, I am yet uncommitted to any candidate. I find admirable qualities in each of them. I also find things I don’t like about each of them. There is also the question of whether to vote for the most likely to win, or to rather vote to send a message.
For example, Kimberley Strassel of the WSJ Editorial Board, writes in this article about why Ron Paul is drawing the most enthusiastic supporters of any GOP hopeful. They don’t constitute enough of a force for him to be a viable front runner, but Strassel says that the other candidates “shouldn't dismiss the passion he's tapped.” She writes, “If Mr. Paul has shown anything, it's that many conservative voters continue to doubt there's anything "heroic" or "compassionate" in a ballooning government that sucks up their dollars to aid a dysfunctional state.”
While the NRO Editors find Romney a strong fiscal conservative, he seems much more likely to be another Republican that only seeks to grow the federal leviathan at a slower rate than would a Democrat. The NRO endorsement of Romney demonstrates a pragmatic choice. That is, they assume, as did Democrats with John Kerry in 2004, that though not terribly thrilling, Romney is the best chance the GOP has of winning the White House in 2008. But then there’s the argument that the GOP needs a wakeup call, and that losing the White House next year wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if it helped the party regain its proper bearing. I am equally dubious of both of these approaches.
It may be helpful to note that Ronald Reagan was seen by many in 1980 to be the GOP candidate of convenience. He didn’t inspire a lot of people to begin with. And many dismissed those he did inspire as being under the thrall of theatrics. None of the GOP candidates inspire a lot of passion in me at present. Perhaps that’s the way it should be. Perhaps national politics would work better if it weren’t like a personality cult. As for now, I’m keeping my options open.