If you consider yourself a conservative, it would seem that Romney is your best bet. While McCain has a pretty good lifetime conservative record, his record in recent years is far less so — particularly on issues that many conservatives find highly important. McCain is unstintingly strong on the military, but the rest of his record looks quite moderate or even liberal.
Romney has a fantastic business record. But when you look at his record as an elected official, any conservative edge he might have over McCain seems to evaporate.
Former Congressman (and current Romney campaign chair) Vin Weber (R-MN) argues passionately in this article in favor of Romney. He cites three firm reasons why conservatives should line up behind Romney. Weber says Romney will strengthen families, strengthen the military, and strengthen the economy.
But the WSJ editors provide some clarity in this article as to why many conservatives are uneasy about Romney. They note that Romney’s penchant for developing successful strategies after “wallowing in data” works superbly in a business setting. But they worry that it does not work well in a political setting.
“Washington's problem isn't a lack of data, or a failure to calibrate the incentives as in the business world. Congress and the multiple layers of government respond exactly as you'd expect given the incentives for self-preservation and turf protection that always exist in political institutions. The only way to overcome them is with leadership on behalf of good ideas backed by public support.”
The WSJ editors worry that “we haven't been able to discern from [Romney’s] campaign, or his record in Massachusetts, what his core political principles are.” In a political setting, a leader must have strong moorings, or else they will soon find themselves drifting about, or being pushed about by the various interests. Just look what happened with RomneyCare in Massachusetts.
McCain, the WSJ editors argue, is a known entity. Conservatives already know where he will betray them and where he will stand with them. The opinion polls won’t really matter to him. What about Romney? Is there anywhere he can be trusted to draw the line? Well, that’s simply not very clear. And that is why many conservatives are uneasy about him.
Another concern is Romney’s attempt to take the appropriate stance on every conservative issue. As Romney supporter Dean Barnett explains in this article, Romney won all of the important conservative constituencies in Florida last Tuesday, but it still wasn’t enough. In essence, he won folks that listen to conservative talk radio, but the GOP consists of far more groups than these.
If Romney is going to be viable, he has to appeal to a much broader audience than he currently seems to be reaching. Even if he were to win the GOP nomination, it will take a lot more than just Republican votes to win the presidency.
The fact is that Romney faces two serious issues. 1) Does he have credibility on the issues he currently espouses? 2) Can he appeal to a broad enough constituency to win? Neither of these questions has been settled. If Romney can’t win the nomination this year, he will have a few years to see if he can settle these questions. Maybe voters a few years from now will be more pleased with Romney 2.0.