It wasn’t that he suddenly committed the unpardonable sin of Romneycare: that controversial program was actually enacted in 2006 before Mitt left the governorship and ran for president, so it was a far more recent (and relevant) memory in the 2008 campaign.On that last point, he's absolutely on the money. I may have more to say on the state of the conservative movement in the weeks ahead, but the upshot is this: The movement of Goldwater and Reagan has in the past 15 years become the movement of Limbaugh and Gingrich, and the results haven't been pretty.
On no significant issue has Romney moved to the left or to the center over the last four years; his platform of 2012 offers a program of conservative reform far bolder and more substantive than any ideas he put forward in 2008.
Mitt’s precise problem came into focus for me with an email from an angry listener to my radio show who upbraided me for my open support of Romney as the most electable candidate against Obama. “We remember what you did to us last time, and we won’t let you get away with it again!” she wrote. “This time you’re trying to ram the RINO, Romney, down our throats and last time it was McCain. It was because of people like you that we got stuck with McCain, when we could have had a real conservative who would have beaten Obama!”
And who would have been that “real conservative” back in the distant days of 2008?
None other than … Mitt Romney, the “conservative’s conservative” eagerly endorsed by Sen. Jim DeMint and nearly all of my talk-radio colleagues, including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Michael Savage, and many more.
That Romney no longer counts as a “real conservative” doesn’t reflect any ideological shifts on his part, but it does suggest a significant movement of the entire GOP toward the enraged and indignant right. The far lower turnouts in Florida, Nevada, Minnesota, Colorado, and Missouri all indicate that this tectonic movement hardly counts as a positive development for the Republican Party. Healthy political organizations attract more participants than ever before; troubled, self-destructive movements drive out people who’ve taken part in the past.
As for the campaign, for all the talk we heard about Romney learning from his mistakes in 2008 and improving as a campaigner, I thought he ran a better campaign in 2008 than he has with his pandering, play-it-safe, coast-to-the-nomination strategy in this cycle. I agree with those who say he should get bolder and start coming up with ideas for governing rather than just sticking with his stale stump speech and running attack ads against his opponents. This isn't the year to be conventional, and Romney has been very conventional.
But that said, if the GOP somehow succeeds in nominating Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich, I believe it could very well set the party and the movement back a generation at least. When the Right pushed Goldwater to the nomination in 1964, he won only six states and we got the Great Society as a result. If the Right nominates Santorum or Gingrich this time, the result will be government-run health care.
(I repeat, I'm a registered independent, so I make these observations from outside the GOP.)