What the bleep?

I just read this Washington Times article and had to pinch myself in hopes that what was happening was just a nightmare, but no – it’s really real. Immediately after he announced he was dropping out of the presidential race, a group of conservative movers and shakers met privately with Mitt Romney to discuss … the possiblity of making him the “face” of the conservative movement:

Some 50 stalwarts of the political right privately met with Mitt Romney minutes after he dropped out of the Republican nominating race to discuss the former Massachusetts governor becoming the face of conservatism, as Ronald Reagan became en route to his 1980 election win.

Participants said the group was not organizing against the presidential bid of Sen. John McCain, the party”s presumptive nominee, but only seeking to revive core values such as lower taxes, limited government and free speech.

“The purpose of the meeting was for him to announce his willingness to fight shoulder to shoulder with true conservatives from here on out,” said political strategist Paul Erickson, who worked for Mr. Romney”s campaign. “He did just that.”

American Conservative Union Chairman David A. Keene presided over the meeting in the Empire Ballroom of the Omni Shoreham in Washington, where the 35th annual Conservative Political Action Conference was held. Besides Mr. Romney and his wife, Ann, and deputy campaign manager Peter G. Flaherty, attendees included former Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed, radio talk show host Laura Ingraham and former Reagan White House official Donald J. Devine.

“If someone had suggested a year ago and a half ago that we would be welcoming Mitt Romney as a potential leader of the conservative movement, no one would have believed it,” Mr. Keene said to open the meeting. “But over the last year and a half, he has convinced us he is one of us and walks with us.”

Jay Sekulow, a Romney volunteer and chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, told attendees that Mr. Romney is the “turnaround specialist” the conservative movement needs.

“The movement needs someone of Ronald Reagan’s stature and Romney could fill that role,” Mr. Sekulow told The Washington Times yesterday.


Other conservative leaders in attendance included Indiana Republican National Committee member James Bopp Jr.; Freedom Alliance President Tom Kilganon; former Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri; Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis; Human Events editor-in-chief Tom Winter; conservative activist Bay Buchanan; Ann Corkery, a Catholic activist; and Rabbi Nate Segal, a Rush Limbaugh associate. Participating via telephone was Free Congress Foundation President Paul M. Weyrich.

You have got.to be kidding me.

A few things first: I don’t want my animosity to this idea to be construed as being about me not liking Romney. I don’t dislike Romney and would have voted for him in the general, had he become the nominee. Like many other conservatives, I initially liked Romney a lot when I heard he was running for prez, but once I got to know about his record of flip flopping, I became a skeptic about his sincerity, wondering if his switch in positions had been made purely for political convenience. As someone who once held a lot of the moderate to liberal positions Romney once did (and perhaps still does?) but who experienced a genuine political rebirth of sorts in the early to mid 90s, I know it is indeed possible to change your political philosophy, but over time the more I learned about Romney the less inclined I was to believe that he had had a true epiphany about liberalism. Yet and still, I was willing to hold my nose to vote for him both in the primary and the general because I believed that on the defining issue of our time – the GWOT – his heart and mind both were in the right place.

But having your heart and mind in the right place as far as the GWOT is concerned does not automatically make one a conservative. Just ask Joe Lieberman.

It would require a great deal of willful ignorance to accept that Romney represents the face of conservatism, primarily because of the believability factor as it relates to his “conversion.” I believe this factor was the main reason why Romney’s campaign lost steam – and bombed in the South. Conservatives just weren’t sure he was The Real Deal. What shocked me, however, as it became apparent that McCain was going to be the man to beat, was how many prominent conservatives (like Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham) started acting like Romney was their guy, treating him like he was some type of staunch conservative. A couple of exceptions to this were Hugh Hewitt who, God bless him, was a big fan of Romney’s before it became fashionable to jump on the bandwagon, and NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez, who also wrote often about Mitt Romney way before conservative pundits became “sMITTen” with the former MA governor.

Consider this: Let’s say conservatives nationwide got together for a national pow-pow, sans the politicos. Just your average work-a-day conservatives like me and you and millions of others, converging at one location to discuss the state of conservatism. We’re handed a pen and paper, and asked to write down the top 20 people each of us would consider to be a “conservative’s conservative.” Would you be able to, in good faith, put Romney on that list? I certainly wouldn’t. In fact, I don’t think he’d even make my top 50 list. When I think of a “conservative’s conservative” I think of, of course, Ronald Reagan, Thomas Sowell, Gov. Mark Sanford, former Lt. Gov. of Maryland Michael Steele, Rep. Duncan Hunter, Rep. Sue Myrick, and Senator Jon Kyl (among others). None of them are perfect conservatives (who is?), but on a vast majority of the issues, in my view they are genuine conservatives. Mitt Romney has a long way to go before he convinces me – and others – that his conversion is the real deal.

But as I mentioned earlier, some notable conservatives didn’t really make much of an effort to push Romney’s alleged “bonafides” until the worry about McCain becoming the nominee elevated, so much so that Laura Ingraham, incredibly, introduced Romney at CPAC as the “conservative’s conservative.” Excuse me? I mean, I know it’s standard and expected to be polite at big functions like CPAC to the politicians and candidates who are scheduled to speak, but c’mon, Romney as the “conservative’s conservative”? Get real. This is the same Laura Ingraham who almost daily took John McCain to the woodshed for not being conservative enough, primarily over the issue of illegal immigration – yet here she was announcing to the Conservative Political Action Committee attendees that Romney was a true conservative, apparently in spite of the fact that Romney himself couldn’t be trusted on the issue of illegal immigration:

When Mitt Romney swooped into the heart of John McCain country this week, he brought a pointed message on illegal immigration: McCain’s approach is the wrong one.

Proudly touting the endorsement of Joe Arpaio, a sheriff in the state who is known nationally for rounding up immigrants in desert tents, Romney boasted of cracking down on illegal immigrants as governor and denounced an immigration bill that the Arizona senator introduced with Senator Edward M. Kennedy in 2005.

It is a theme Romney has hit hard in recent weeks in his appeals to conservatives, many of whom attack McCain’s immigration bill for proposing an eventual path to citizenship for immigrants living illegally in the United States and a guest-worker program to help fill American jobs.

“McCain-Kennedy isn’t the answer,” Romney said in a well-received speech to conservatives in Washington this month, describing it as an amnesty plan that would reward people for breaking the law and cost taxpayers millions to provide them benefits.


In a November 2005 interview with the Globe, Romney described immigration proposals by McCain and others as “quite different” from amnesty, because they required illegal immigrants to register with the government, work for years, pay taxes, not take public benefits, and pay a fine before applying for citizenship.

“That’s very different than amnesty, where you literally say, ‘OK, everybody here gets to stay,’ ” Romney said in the interview. “It’s saying you could work your way into becoming a legal resident of the country by working here without taking benefits and then applying and then paying a fine.”

Romney did not specifically endorse McCain’s bill, saying he had not yet formulated a full position on immigration. But he did speak approvingly of efforts by McCain and Bush to solve the nation’s immigration crisis, calling them “reasonable proposals.”

Romney also said in the interview that it was not “practical or economic for the country” to deport the estimated 12 million immigrants living in the US illegally. “These people contribute in many cases to our economy and to our society,” he said. “In some cases, they do not. But that’s a whole group we’re going to have to determine how to deal with.”

Asked about the discrepancy between Romney’s comments in 2005 and now, spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said: “Over the past year and a half, as the American people have learned all the details of the McCain-Kennedy approach, they have arrived at the same conclusion as Governor Romney: It rewards people who are here illegally.”

What a crock. If that isn’t a classic flip flop, I don’t know what is. Romney went from saying one thing in November 2005, to saying something entirely different in March of 2007 on the issue of McCain/Kennedy. But he’s a “conservative’s conservative”? Alrighty then.

Next up was Rush Limbaugh, who in the days leading up to Super Tuesday, all but kissed Romney’s ring in declaring that, “[…] there probably is a candidate on our side who does embody all three legs of the conservative stool, and that’s Romney. The three stools or the three legs of the stool are national security/foreign policy, the social conservatives, and the fiscal conservatives.”

He was right on national security/foreign policy, but is Mitt Romney really a social and fiscal conservative? Take a look at his “evolving” views on abortion and gay “rights”, both also issues where his positions convieniently “evolved.” His fiscal record? Mixed. Oh, and campaign finance reform? Let’s just say his position on that issue “shifted” as well over the last several years. For good measure, check out his tightrope walk on global warming back when he was governor.

But we’re supposed to believe Mitt Romney embodies the “three legs of the conservative stool”? I don’t think so.

Some may counter that it’s easy enough to take one issue here, and another there, to try and paint a Republican politician/candidate into a corner as a liberal, but that in the end we should view the sum total of that person before deciding whether or not we support them. I totally agree, which is why I saw (and still see) very little difference between Romney and McCain – the exception being that I view McCain as more socially and fiscally conservative, whereas I’m unsure whether or not to believe Romney on just about any issue. Yet, well-respected conservatives were somehow convinced late in the game that Romney should carry the conservative banner? :-? Color me baffled.

And if this was truly all an effort not so much to trump up Romney as a sincere conservative as it was to reverse McCain’s momentum, couldn’t it still be argued that these same prominent conservatives were (and are) still trying to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes as much as McCain supporters were (and still are) trying to paint him as a “true conservative”?

There’s no question that there aren’t many happy conservatives in the Republican party right now, especially what with the divisions which exist about McCain, as well as the overall state of the movement in general within the party. And I don’t blame this group of influential conservatives for making a good faith effort to try and put back together the broken pieces of the movement. But you can’t do that if you’re willing to prop up the same candidate who praised some of McCain’s signature issues just a few years ago, who, in some cases, took positions not that long ago which sharply contrasted with traditional conservatism, and whose motivations for changing his political views were/are highly questionable. I can’t stress enough how trying to make him the face of conservatism at this stage of the game is a really, really bad, terribly flawed idea.

Yes, he’s an attractive candidate (literally), yes, he’s a charming guy who is well-spoken, yes, he’s got his head screwed on right when it comes to fighting the GWOT, and yes, he’s got business acumen that many of us would give our first born to possess. But is he the “conservative’s conservative” who “embodies the three legs of the conservative stool”? Absolutely not. I might believe it in a couple of years, provided he doesn’t deviate from his current positions, but not today. I want to believe Romney, I really do. But he’s got to earn that trust (well, about as much as a politician can be trusted, anyway).

I’m eager to heal the divisions and wounds within the conservative movement, too, but – to borrow a phrase from La Clinton – I’m not willing to suspend disbelief in order to do so. It’d be like jumping from the frying pan into the fire – only to get burned … again.

Semi-sorta related: Planned Parenthood takes aim at McCain.

More: Huckabee gains on McCain in VA, but I don’t think it’ll be enough to boost Huck to victory in Tuesday’s big “Potomac Primaries” state.

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