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George Will Slams Mitt Romney, And The Right

George Will is out this morning with a column that many are taking as a scathing evisceration of Mitt Romney:

Romney, supposedly the Republican most electable next November, is a recidivist reviser of his principles who is not only becoming less electable; he might damage GOP chances of capturing the Senate. Republican successes down the ticket will depend on the energies of the Tea Party and other conservatives, who will be deflated by a nominee whose blurry profile in caution communicates only calculated trimming.

Republicans may have found their Michael Dukakis, a technocratic Massachusetts governor who takes his bearings from “data” (although there is precious little to support Romney’s idea that in-state college tuition for children of illegal immigrants is a powerful magnet for such immigrants) and who believes elections should be about (in Dukakis’s words) “competence,” not “ideology.” But what would President Romney competently do when not pondering ethanol subsidies that he forthrightly says should stop sometime before “forever”? Has conservatism come so far, surmounting so many obstacles, to settle, at a moment of economic crisis, for this?

I tend to disagree with Will that a Romney candidacy would really hurt the GOP down ticket. Whatever one might say about Mitt Romney, the prospect of being able to defeat Barack Obama and take control of the Senate is going to make it hard for even the most bitter Romney-haters on the right to stay home from the polls. When it comes right down it, they want to win and, presuming that Romney placates them with an exciting Vice-Presidential choice (although one that is hopefully, for his sake, more competent than John McCain’s choice in 2008), they’ll show up at the polls. Some will point to GOP turnout in 2008 as evidence that nominating “squish” will keep Republicans home from the polls, but that analysis misses several key differences between 2008 and what we’re likely to see in 2012. By the time we got to late October 2008, it was pretty self-evident to all but the most deluded Republican that John McCain was going to lose. McCain had run an atrocious campaign and seemingly hurt himself with a Vice-Presidential choice that energized some in the base but turned off independents. More importantly, though, the economic crisis that began in mid-September guaranteed that whatever effort McCain would make to disassociate himself from the Bush Administration would fail miserably. Obama, on the other hand, was the young, energetic campaigner that fired up the crowds even in traditionally Republican states like Virginia. It’s no wonder some Republicans decided to stay home. Even with Romney at the top of the ticket, it seems unlikely that Republicans will react the same way next November.

The majority of  Will’s piece is a through recitation of the many flaws that conservatives have pointed out about Romney before. His flip-flopping, his inconsistency, the perception that he really doesn’t care as much about ideology as many on the right do and therefore wouldn’t be too concerned with acting in what they’d consider an “unprincipled” manner if he became President if it proved to be a decision that “worked.”  I don’t need to repeat the chargers here, we’ve heard them all before and Will does a far better job of laying it out than I would, so go read the rest of the column. Reading the column closely, though, I think it’s clear that Will’s real target isn’t Romney, although he’s clearly not much of a fan, but movement conservatism itself which has produced what will sees as a pretty crappy field of candidates.

Let’s just consider what Will has had to say about the other candidates on the right this year. In May, he said that Newt Gingrich just wasn’t a serious candidate.  He called Michele Bachmann a marginal candidate who was not among the serious contenders. He’s criticized Rick Perry as part of an overall indictment of  what he views as the GOP’s mistaken reliance on Electoral Votes from the South.  And, just two weeks, ago he dismissed Herman Cain as a candidate running a serious campaign. He hasn’t said much about candidates like Santorum, Paul, Johnson, or Hunstman, but then none of them has a realistic shot at the nomination. In reality, despite what he says about Romney, it’s hard to see someone like Will being all that enthusiastic about any of those candidates. One is reminded, in fact, of one of Will’s This Week appearances when he said that the person taking the Oath of Office in 2013 would be Obama, Romney Mitch Daniels, or Tim Pawlenty. Well, Pawlenty dropped out, Daniels didn’t run, and Obama is clearly unacceptable to the right. That leaves Mitt Romney. Will’s point seems to be, well if you don’t like him, who exactly are you going to nominate instead of him? The conclusion seems to be that if conservatives are dismayed at world where Mitt Romney is the most viable Republican candidate for President, and he is, then they have nobody to blame but themselves.

H/T: William Jacobson for the links to previous Will articles.

Update: The final paragraph has been edited from the original to correct the error noted here.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    I’m not seeing an indictment of movement conservatives from Will, just more of his cranky-old-man act. He despises Romney. Who doesn’t he despise? Will’s an old man sliding into irrelevance in a party that no longer gives a damn what he’s got to say because his party isn’t his party anymore.

    The ‘movement’ is boot-licks for the rich, gay-bashers, people who want to arrest any woman who’s had a miscarriage, unreconstructed racists, AGW-deniers, evolution-deniers and folks who think helping Israel will hasten the apocalypse. They are in short, idiots. It’s the ‘movement’ of stupid people believing stupid things for stupid reasons.

    And we’re surprised all their candidates are idiots? How could it be any other way?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 18 Thumb down 4

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    My read was that Will recognizes that the lunatics are in the drivers seat. As for Romney’s VP – who is he going to choose that will satisfy the base and not scare off the independents?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  3. Kylopod says:

    >the person taking the Oath of Office in 2013 would be Obama, Romney, or Tim Pawlenty.

    Look at the article again. The three individuals Will cited were Obama, Daniels, and Pawlenty. Obviously, he was wrong about that, as Nate Silver pointed out recently.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  4. @Kylopod:

    You are correct. Editing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  5. I must confess, I read that column as nothing but a slam on Romney and not a general critique of the right.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. Tano says:

    I think WIll was being too kind to Romney. There is no evidence that he sets his bearings by reference to “data”. Unless he means the data generated by opinion polling of the electorate he is courting at the moment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  7. Kylopod says:

    It’s worth pointing out that Will has a long history of expressing dissatisfaction with the Republican candidates for president. (In 1992, he said that he actually declined to vote for Bush Sr., instead writing in Jack Kemp.) He’s a perpetual grouch, and so his complaints about Romney–while well-taken on the merits–say more about Will than they do about the current GOP.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  8. michael reynolds says:

    @Tano:
    That’s unfair. Romney moistens his finger, raises it in the air, and the resulting sensation provides him with ‘data’ on which way the wind is blowing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  9. sam says:

    @Tano:

    There is no evidence that he sets his bearings by reference to “data”.

    Au contraire. As Huntsman pointed our, Mittens is exquisitely tuned to meteorological data.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  10. Eric Florack says:

    A Romney nomination would certainly hurt the down ticket, because it would clearly show the GOP Castratti have not learned the lesson yet. As Will says in a previous article, he’s a perfect weather vane

    I will sya it again; the only chance the GOP has is to nominate a real conservative. Romeny isn’t one, and never was.

    And to those who support Romney, can you please explain to us.how Romeny is any kind of advantage over Obama?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  11. anjin-san says:

    the resulting sensation provides him with ‘data’ on which way the wind is blowing.

    No wonder the “principled conservatives” don’t like him. They live their ideals.

    Speaking of principled conservatives, I saw Fred Thompson on TV the other night hawking “government insured” reverse mortgages. I guess maintaining a trophy wife is a costly business.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  12. Eric Florack says:

    And, just two weeks, ago he dismissed Herman Cain as a candidate running a serious campaign.

    Clearly, Will hadn’t heard about Iowa when he wrote this, and will now just as clearly flummoxed by it.

    Being one of the Castratti, Will will never understand

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. Ron Beasley says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I disagree. He was describing Romney – not a pretty picture but as Doug said:

    Will’s point seems to be, well if you don’t like him, who exactly are you going to nominate instead of him?

    The base has driven out most of the sane people who might be guilty of not being flat earth neanderthals.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  14. Ebenezer Arvigenius says:

    On a related note: Doesn’t it scare anyone else that apparently making decisions based on “data” is now considered a liability? And that someone fitting that profile is expected to lead the most powerful nation on earth?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  15. @Steven L. Taylor:

    I think the key is in that last sentence of Will’s column. He’s no fan of Romney, but, really, what’s the alternative for conservatives if they actually want to have a chance of winning?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. PJ says:

    @Eric Florack:

    And to those who support Romney, can you please explain to us.how Romeny is any kind of advantage over Obama?

    That Romneycare pays for abortions. something that Obamacare doesn’t?

    …Maybe that’s not the advantage….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  17. PJ says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    The base has driven out most of the sane people who might be guilty of not being flat earth neanderthals.

    The base is flat earth neanderthals.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  18. @Doug Mataconis: I can see your point about the interpretation, although I can see reading that sentence as also just a lament about a possible Romney nomination.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. mannning says:

    The Democratic opposition to a Romney candidacy is by convention Obama. You know, the signer of drastic, debt-raising spending bills from his cohorts in the House and Senate, and all on his own, perhaps with the help of his 40 czars, signs a raft of Executive Orders to subvert Congress and the will of the people when he can’t get his way in the democratic process. At the rate of the now standard 1.5 trillion USD deficit per year, we should be totally busted if Obama gets yet another four-year chance to outspend the sum of all previous presidents, and to hide the fact behind non-budget budgets and other subterfuges.

    The obvious reaction is “any port in a storm”, be it Romney, Cain, Perry, Gingrich, or any of the others, with the exception of Paul. We couldn’t possibly be worse off with any of those candidates than with another Obama and Democratic tour of destruction and prolonged economic disaster.

    Yet there are those who will vote again for what has become the most disastrous presidency in history, and the most outrageous set of Leftwing demagogic Democratic congressmen and woman in history to foster the Left’s plans, which clearly illustrates the absolute lunacy of the Left. We all know the financial mistakes made in previous presidencies, because they were well and truly published before the 2008 election, yet the Left, led by Obama, and a fully Democratic Congress did nothing in three years to correct them, but rather in all deliberate haste and chicanery tripled down on them! Tripled down!

    No thank you!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 11

  20. PJ says:

    @mannning:

    The Democratic opposition to a Romney candidacy is by convention Obama. You know, the signer of drastic, debt-raising spending bills from his cohorts in the House and Senate, and all on his own, perhaps with the help of his 40 czars, signs a raft of Executive Orders to subvert Congress and the will of the people when he can’t get his way in the democratic process. At the rate of the now standard 1.5 trillion USD deficit per year, we should be totally busted if Obama gets yet another four-year chance to outspend the sum of all previous presidents, and to hide the fact behind non-budget budgets and other subterfuges.

    The obvious reaction is “any port in a storm”, be it Romney, Cain, Perry, Gingrich, or any of the others, with the exception of Paul. We couldn’t possibly be worse off with any of those candidates then with another Obama and Democratic tour of destruction and prolonged economic disaster.

    Yet there are those who will vote again for what has become the most disastrous presidency in history, and the most outrageous set of Leftwing demagogic Democratic congressmen and woman in history to foster the Left’s plans, which clearly illustrates the absolute lunacy of the Left. We all know the financial mistakes made in previous presidencies, because they were well and truly published before the 2008 election, yet the Left, led by Obama, and a fully Democratic Congress did nothing in three years to correct them, but rather in all deliberate haste and chicanery tripled down on them! Tripled down!

    No thank you!

    All that and yet the Republicans are unable to pick and run a true conservative against Obama…. No, they have to pick The Milky-toast flip-flopper with the abortion covering health care plan if they are going to have a chance…. A candidate whose main support are liberal states and states with Mormons, a candidate who’s getting single digit support among Republicans in the South.

    The left wing media, the liberals, and the Mormons are picking your candidate. ;)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. Rick Almeida says:

    @mannning:

    I’ll have what he’s having.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  22. george says:

    Yet there are those who will vote again for what has become the most disastrous presidency in history

    Seriously? You mean the most disastrous presidency since 1776?

    I kind of place him more or less tied with George Bush Jr (in fact I think they’re pretty close to being indistinguishable), but neither are close to being the most disastrous. Maybe if we see a civil war between the states from their actions that has half a million of us killing each other they’ll be in the running. As it is now they’re definitely minor league as far as disaster goes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  23. Ebenezer Arvigenius says:

    Yet there are those who will vote again for what has become the most disastrous presidency in history, and the most outrageous set of Leftwing demagogic Democratic congressmen and woman in history

    Mate, I know science has no more place on the political right, but you should at least try to read some, you know, history. That might cure you of this silly notion. Heck, even a pseudo-scientific work like Jen’s New Deal books would prove you wrong if you can’t stand “left wing academia”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  24. michael reynolds says:

    I want to thank Eric and Manning for showing up to make my point for me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  25. anjin-san says:

    Castratti

    ???

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. Ebenezer Arvigenius says:

    Castratti

    He is trying to insult in Italian.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  27. superdestroyer says:

    The reason the candidates are so bad is that the Bush Clan had zero interest in developing the next generation of Republicans because the Bush Clan wanted no one around to compete with members of the Bush Clan for the presidential election. Look at how some Republicans have talk about Jeb Bush being a good candidate even after the massive failures of the first two Bush Presidents.

    What George Will refuses to face is that the Republican Party has become irrelevant. Even when Republicans win, the Democrats get what they want (more spending, bigger government, more entitlements) but the social conservatives get nothing, the fiscal conservative get the opposite of what they want, and the libertarian wing gets nothing. The only wing of the Republican Party that ever has a policy success are the Israel-first neo=cons. And now that the Obama Administration appears to give Israel whatever they want, the neo-cons have all become Democrats (See David Frum).

    What George Will should be writing about is the evolution of the U.S. into a one-party-state like California where the general election is unimportant and the Democratic primary is the real election.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  28. ponce says:

    but, really, what’s the alternative for conservatives if they actually want to have a chance of winning?

    Would a Romney win equal a win for “conservatives?”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. Ron Beasley says:

    @PJ: That’s what I was trying to say.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. anjin-san says:

    @ Ebenezer Arvigenius

    Gotcha. Kind of a strange thing for a guy to keep referring to, but then, it’s bithead.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. mannning says:

    Any port in a storm! Exaggeration for effect is fun to do, but perhaps I should have said since FDR.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  32. Franklin says:

    @mannning: You’ve got to stick to military analysis, which is where you seem to excel.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. mannning says:

    @Franklin:

    Rather than throw snark, Franklin, you and Michael should go back to the financial books and bone up on the massive debt your Obama and the Democratic Congress has run up in three short years, and is projected to continue for the next ten years! You should understand the consequences of projecting totally unrealistic revenues for the government over those ten years in order to justify the burgeoning unpublished budgets of this looney administration. It is nothing short of criminal that an administration could so jeopardize the nation. Were it not for the continuing coverups of the media, Obama would be looking at a tar and feather ride out of the Capitol. The Leftist reaction to being called out for this extraodinary spending spree is sneers, snark, and killing the messenger, instead of facing the music headon. But, then, what do fools do?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  34. flataffect says:

    Thank you, Doug, for a bit of sane reflection in this season of fear and loathing. The idea that Romney wouldn’t be an immense improvement on Obama is definitely absurd. For one thing, he’ll be governing as the head of a GOP government with a mandate to cut spending. He is definitely a capitalist who knows how to get the economy functioning. He has a record of cutting spending and balancing budgets and believes in meritocracy. What everybody calls flip-flopping, I see as course correction. Even if he turns out to be as moderate as conservatives fear, he’ll be infinitely better than Obama. His family background and religion are conservative, although perhaps not as much as the Perry backers would like.

    He’s been the winner of every debate and has created an organization and fundraising operation that others envy and it will go into high gear once he’s secured the nomination. He’s shown that he won’t let cheap shots go unanswered.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  35. john personna says:

    @mannning:

    Rather than throw snark, Franklin, you and Michael should go back to the financial books and bone up on the massive debt your Obama and the Democratic Congress has run up in three short years, and is projected to continue for the next ten years!

    Maybe you should:

    US Debt Accumulation by President

    (There we go with “data” again.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  36. john personna says:

    @flataffect:

    The idea that Romney wouldn’t be an immense improvement on Obama is definitely absurd. For one thing, he’ll be governing as the head of a GOP government with a mandate to cut spending. He is definitely a capitalist who knows how to get the economy functioning.

    As long as no one in congress offers him a concrete spending reduction, he’ll be fine.

    (How’s the GOP’s debt commission plan going?)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  37. matt b says:

    @Eric Florack & @mannning (among others) — a serious question,

    Imagining for a moment a future where a more “conservative” candidate – Cain or perhaps Perry? (who else qualifies for you in the current field) – wins the nomination but loses the race… Would such an event be a sign that the core of the country isn’t perhaps as far right as you suggest? Or would it just be proof that the powers that be will do anything to suppress the real US?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  38. mannning says:

    @matt b:

    This is a really big country, and it divides up into bastions of sanity and dancehalls of delerium, mostly along the lines of Mid and Southern bastions, and Left Coast and NorthEast dancehalls, plus the rural bastions versus the city dancehalls.

    If your hypothetical event did occur, I would seriously look for ballot box stuffing by the Left first and foremost. But, let us further assume that box stuffing was not a concern. Then it would depend on the margin of loss. Between 1% and 5% I’d call it a draw, believing that enough of the young voters were held in sway this particular time to effect a win for center-left. They will grow up soon, however, and restore the balance. Between 6% and 10%, I’d say there was something going on that tilted the balance strongly this time, but is not necessarily a long-term trend. If the margin was over 10%, however, that would indicate a potential shift of serious proportions, and I guess we’d then have to order a substantial number of Leftists to do a “left face” and “forward march” into the Pacific Ocean. (J/K) The main problem I see is that it must take at least several terms of consistent returns to establish a real trend. Give it two or three more terms and I could care less either way!

    In reality, I would assume that enough voters would reach their major sanity point in life just in time to restore the natural conservative balance within a term or so, as I fully expect will happen this next time out. Most are saying with my earshot the very slogan I published earlier—”Any port in a storm!” Most Obama supporters have rather recently become very silent and untalkative around here, and even the Democratic candidates for local and state offices are shying away from Obama’s coattails, because they receive too much flack if they say anything about Obama at all. Is this a sure sign of defeat? Maybe so.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  39. mannning says:

    @john personna:

    As usual, you aren’t counting the sheckels correctly. The operative point is the projections over the next ten years of both the massive outlays, and then the revenues, which by some miracle must average some 9% to 12% higher each year than they ever have for things to balance out. In fact the first year, 2012, must have a 34% revenue increase!

    This is all pure fantasy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  40. mannning says:

    @matt b:

    Well, another contribution to your answer goes like this—

    You use the phrase “far right as I suggest” as the core belief of the nation. This phrase smacks of moving the goalposts. Now, the “far right” in my terms conjures up images of The John Birch Society, Minutemen, Deconstructionists, and America Firsters, who are perhaps jut as rabid and looney as their far left counterparts, such as the socialists and communists, and are extremely distasteful to me.

    I use a provisional scale of: Far Left; Left; Left-Moderate; Center; Right -Moderate; Right; Far Right, and I categorize myself as being a Right-Moderate Conservative, which is several huge steps away from “far right” in my lexicon. I suspect the majority of voters fall into the middle three of these categories, i.e. mostly left moderate to right moderate in the US. The large class of independents fall in here also, which can be observed by their swinging votes back and forth between the moderate left and the moderate right depending on the issues foremost in their minds, and the individuals being run at election time. (which tactic, in my view, is very faulty since it ignores the political power of collective harmony.)

    Thus the answer I give you is that your question is faulty in conception, and the noticable attempt by the Left to move the goalposts to the left is sheer political poppycock, and is most likely the result of the raucous noise generated by the far left and the media who literally believe themselves to be the bellweathers of the core, which simply ain’t true!

    What seems to be true to me is that in the Congress, the category of left-moderate (Jacksonian Democrats) has withered politically almost into oblivion, to be replaced by the Pelosi/Reid/Schumer kind of leftwing politics (shudder!). This withering is due far more to the extreme leftwing Democratic party control and polarization of the representatives and senators than the actual decline of moderate Democrats. Even the President fights to bring things somewhat back to left-center against these ogres of the far left.

    In a much larger context, I believe that the core ideas, ideals and values that we as Americans share together are far more important than a transitory, even illusory and vote-buying party platform such as is championed by the Democrats or, yes, the Republicans, today.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1