Why are conservatives lining up behind a politician of whom Rush Limbaugh has said flatly: “Mitt Romney is not a conservative” — a sentiment echoed by Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and 2008 Iowa caucuses winner?
The answer lies in a misunderstanding of the “conservative” voter. It’s a mistake to think that voters who describe themselves as “conservative” think about politics and react to politicians the same as people who are professionally or avocationally conservative.
Those of us who are professionally or avocationally conservative get into the weeds when it comes to politicians’ view. So for us, it isn’t enough that Mitt Romney now says he is pro-life; we know that in 1994 he ran for senator in Massachusetts as an unapologetic abortion supporter. He says flatly that he changed his mind, but people for whom the pro-life cause is central find such a record untrustworthy.
But that isn’t true of the conservative voter. That voter listens to Romney, and she hears Romney say he’s pro-life. That’s more than likely enough for her if the issue is important to her.
This is a good point to emphasize. Those of us with our brains perpetually surfing the treacherous currents of the media narratives and diving down into the bottom-dwelling sludge of excessive political study often do see things differently than our “real life” voter counterparts who share our values but had the intelligence and sanity to find careers in other fields.
But in the case of the Rise of Romney that’s not the only factor in play here. For example it doesn’t explain what to make of Ann Coulter turning her sharp sword on Romney’s enemies:
Earlier this week, Mitt Romney got into trouble for saying, “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.” To comprehend why the political class reacted as if Romney had just praised Hitler, you must understand that his critics live in a world in which no one can ever be fired — a world known as “the government.”
(And a tip for you Washington types: Just because a person became rich without working for government doesn’t mean he is “Wall Street.” A venture capital firm in Boston that tries to rescue businesses headed for bankruptcy, for example, is not “Wall Street.”)
To understand the professional Coulter’s strident Romney advocacy requires consideration of another factor. Many in the “professional, avocationally conservative” class have come around to Romney for the same reason as many “real life” conservatives: there isn’t a competent alternative with a chance of beating Obama. Removing the Community-Organizer-In-Chief from office is the primary priority. And proper application of the Buckley Rule now leads us to Romney.
That’s why so many of us “professional, avocationally conservative” writer/activist/media types did some manner of Trump-Bachmann-Perry-Cain-Gingrich-Santorum dance step over the last six months. (For me the hopes first rose with Rick Perry, sank with his poor debate performances, rose with Herman Cain’s Florida success, and sank with his inability to handle practical politics. Shortly after Cain dropped out my primary enthusiasm gas tank ran dry, calmly depositing me at acceptance of Romney Inevitability.)
In a sense Romney embodies something conservatives have long resorted to when their ideologically pure dreams cannot yet align with the filth of political reality: “the least worst option.”