From the outrages he let Barack Obama get away with to the stunning ineptitude of his campaign team, Mitt Romney holds plenty of blame for last week’s dispiriting presidential election. But he’s not the only one, and before we do something stupid like surrender on immigration in a shortsighted bid to woo Hispanics, the Right needs to have a little chat about another key voting bloc that should have been far easier to hold...but wasn't, for reasons conservatives seem unwilling to discuss.
The single most shocking detail about the results was the pitiful Republican turnout, with Romney receiving 3 million fewer GOP votes than John McCain and 5 million fewer than George W. Bush -- a difference that could have overcome Tuesday’s 3-million-person difference in the popular vote or made up the 333,000 additional votes necessary for an Electoral College win.
Yes, Romney’s conservatism was imperfect. But so was Bush's. And McCain? He was so liberal that, to keep him away from the nomination and ensure a conservative made it on the ballot, the punditocracy told us we had to rally around…Mitt Romney.
So how could Romney -- who, for all his flaws, took most of the right positions, had an appealing background, and didn’t share Bush or McCain’s zeal for amnesty -- possibly be less palatable than either of his moderate predecessors? Especially while trying to unseat someone widely considered to be the worst, most left-wing president in US history?
A big part of the answer is because somewhere between GOP presidential primaries, half the Right flip-flopped on Romney, recasting their onetime conservative alternative as the new RINO boogeyman we needed an alternative from, with scores of pundits, activists, and bloggers ranting that an amorphous party "establishment" was trying to force Romney on the base. Yes, politics is a tough business and primaries are the place for aggressively vetting our candidates, but far too many of our own crossed the line from “Romney is weak in area x” to “Romney is our enemy.”
Tea Party Nation head Judson Phillips and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said they'd focus on congressional races because Romney wasn’t worth their members’ excitement. Sen. Rick Santorum suggested Romney might not be different enough from Obama to bother changing presidents. Talk radio host Mark Levin excoriated Romney daily, calling him a corporatist of questionable character who couldn’t be supported in the primary without compromising all of one's principles. Blogger Dan Riehl considered organizing conservatives to oppose Romney in the general election. Free Republic banned all Romney supporters as “enemies of the Constitution.” Blogger John Hawkins warned that supporting Romney would require conservatives to “sell our souls.” RedState.com waged an all-out war against Romney and his sympathizers, the most hysterical examples of which being Erick Erickson’s claim that nominating the bad Mormon would kill conservatism and Thomas Crown’s accusation that National Review “alienated” itself from the conservative movement by preferring Romney to the alternatives. Conservative stalwarts like Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan got torn apart as phonies in popular comment sections for backing Romney. And last month, Personhood USA used an unfair spin on Romney’s words as evidence that he was “insisting on maintaining the status quo of abortion on demand.”
Fast-forward to Election Day, and 5 million Republican voters decide to stay home.
Gee, who could have guessed? (I mean, besides me.)
Again, we shouldn’t completely absolve Romney of responsibility. As the candidate, it was his job to assure the base he could walk the walk. Nor should Romney’s shortcomings have gone ignored or unchallenged during the primary.
But with so many influential conservative voices doing everything they could to convince their audiences that Romney was just Diet Obama and that he posed an existential threat to their very philosophy, is it any wonder that so many of them decided not to vote? How is any post-primary coalescing supposed to fully heal divisions that deep? How are Republican candidates supposed to endure two-front wars against Democrats and their own base?
Rather than protect the integrity of the Republican ticket, Levin, Erickson, Perkins, and company served as useful idiots for the Left, dividing conservatives enough for a weak incumbent with indefensible ideas and hated policies to keep power for another four years. And now we’re all going to suffer for it.
It goes without saying that for 2016, we’ll need to find a candidate with bolder instincts, a deeper affinity for conservatism, and greater skill in articulating it. But by the time his own failings and impurities come to light, hopefully Obama’s second term will have taught our Purity Police that a little perspective can make a world of difference.