This morning I sat down to write a letter to the Mitt skeptics, especially my fellow evangelicals. Yet it proved a nettlesome task. There are so many misconceptions about Mitt, the field is so littered with attacks and misinformation, that one has to clear the field of the falsehoods before one can forge ahead and show Mitt Romney as he actually is. So I’ll publish the open letter tomorrow.
For today, let’s distinguish between Myth Romney and Mitt Romney. Myth Romney is a co-creation of a peculiar coalition of media and political liberals who fear that Romney would beat Obama and conservative activists and commentators who support other primary candidates. According to them, Myth Romney is a closet liberal pretending to be a conservative; the things he said in an election contest against Ted Kennedy in 1994 are more revealing of his true opinions than the things he’s done and said in the 17 years since. Ergo, Myth Romney is not a conservative, and not acceptable to conservatives. He would not bring strong conservative leadership to Washington; he would bring, at best, a lukewarm commitment to center-center-right mushiness and a milquetoast commitment to moderation and compromise. Also, as a Mormon, and as a moderate, he can never evoke the passions of the Right, and the enthusiasm gap would kill him against Obama.
Myth Romney Part 1: Romney is Unacceptable to Conservatives.
Whenever you hear this slogan, you’re being manipulated. Don’t believe the lie.
With “Mitt Romney is unacceptable to conservatives,” Right-Wing rabble rousers like Red State’s Erick Erickson — who have shamed themselves this primary cycle with their relentlessly superficial caricaturing of Romney and their equally superficial cheerleading for a parade of Not-Mitt candidates — have attempted to tell a demonstrable falsehood so repeatedly that it becomes a part of the mental landscape of social conservatism.
If I’m not a conservative, then the category of “conservative” has so contracted that it means nothing more than “Erick Erickson and the people he likes.” I’ve written in defense of the pro-life movement (here and here), in defense of traditional marriage (here and here), in defense of the Tea Party movement (here, here and here), in defense of Sarah Palin, in defense of fiscal conservatism, in defense of moral and social conservatism — and so on and on. Yet I not only accept Mitt. I admire him, support him wholeheartedly, and thank God we have a candidate of his quality, character and expertise at this extraordinarily important moment in our nation’s history. So here’s one conservative who finds Mitt Romney more than “acceptable” — and the only folks in my circle of friends who are more conservative than myself, people who have dedicated their lives to activism on behalf of (mostly social) conservative causes, are the founders and supporters of Evangelicals for Mitt.
Still not impressed? Fine. How about people we all know? Are you honestly telling me that John Thune, Chris Christie, Norm Coleman, Jim Talent, and Mike Leavitt — all of whom are criss-crossing Iowa on Romney’s behalf right now — are not conservatives? Seriously? How about columnist and radio talk show hosts Hugh Hewitt and Michael Medved? Or John Hinderaker of the hugely respected Powerline blog (like the now-retired Paul Mirengoff in the last cycle)? Or Ramesh Ponnuru from the National Review? Or how about the editorial board of the National Review (read: Rich Lowry), which endorsed Romney last time and still makes his case? Or the editorial board of the Washington Examiner? Or how about Governors and former Governors, Presidents and former nominees like Tim Pawlenty, John Sununu, George H. W. Bush and Bob Dole? Or Senators Mark Kirk, Richard Burr, Elizabeth Dole, and Mike Johanns?
Granted, some of those figures are “establishment conservatives” and not “movement conservatives,” but this is like complaining that it’s only the conservatives who have won national and statewide offices, and who have gained actual government experience at a high level, who support Mitt Romney — a strange complaint indeed. And movement conservatives were awful excited about Nikki Haley and Christine O’Donnell and Chris Christie, all of whom have endorsed Romney. Or how about this one? Ann Coulter. Coulter argues that Mitt is the best candidate to beat Obama and the best candidate to confront our biggest and most urgent challenges. Is Ann Coulter — friggin’ Ann Coulter, for goodness’ sake — not conservative now? You’ve got to be kidding me. Let’s put this meme to bed.
Myth Romney Part 2: We Need to Send a Bull into the Beltway China Shop.
I understand the frustration. For those on the outside, it’s tempting to look at our elected representatives in Washington and think the whole Beltway bureaucracy is so diseased that we need someone who will lop off the seventy gangrenous limbs of the federal government and then, somehow (this is never quite clear), preserve or recreate a new system that is still effective in discharging the true constitutional duties of the federal government but leaves a much smaller footprint on the American economy and our liberties.
This was a part of the appeal of Rick Perry. He was a two-fisted political brawler who would topple the old order — while Romney seemed more likely to challenge the old order to a game of Scrabble. Mitt just looks establishment. He’s tall and handsome, fit and, well, presidential. He speaks as though he received an exquisite education, which in fact he did. He’s always pressed and perfectly coiffed. Romney’s a technocrat, and after the last five years we have a justified fear of technocrats.
But, for one thing, I’m not convinced our elected leaders are so much feckless and corrupt as they are merely bogged down by the complications of real-world responsibility and the slow process of compromise and checks-and-balances that our Constitution enshrines. For another, this is identity politics at its worst. Don’t hate Mitt because he’s beautiful. (That’s a joke, folks.) Don’t oppose Mitt because he seems less like the guy you’d share a beer with and more like the CEO of the beer company. We might just need the CEO right now. The conservative predilection for an ordinary guy, a common man of common sense, has not returned dividends. Romney is an uncommon man of common sense — yes, a technocrat, but with all his competence and expertise pointed in the right direction by the right ideology. And while his policy proposals are sometimes wonkish, they would make dramatic changes to the federal government in orderly and pragmatic ways.
There’s nothing conservative, nothing at all, about burning the old order to the ground. We don’t need an arsonist. We need a turnaround artist, someone who will have the experience, the wisdom, and the people skills to coordinate a thousand incremental changes into a dramatic transformation for the better. Setting off explosives are more likely to sink the Ship of State than they are to turn it around.
Myth Romney Part 3: Conservatives, Especially Evangelicals, will not Support Mitt with Enthusiasm
After all, haven’t 15 percent of evangelicals said they wouldn’t vote for a Mormon? The answer to this question is: no. Fifteen percent of evangelicals have said that a candidate’s Mormonism makes them less likely to vote for him. In the primary, that could make a difference, especially in states like Iowa and South Carolina. But in the general election, it has virtually no effect.
The reason is simple: According to Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center, “The people for whom [Romney’s] faith is a potential sticking point are so anti-Obama that that’s the bigger factor. The very same people for whom Mormonism is maybe of some concern are the same people who most vigorously oppose Obama.” Pew found that 91% of white evangelicals who are Republican or lean-Republican would vote for Mitt Romney over Obama. 8 out of 10 said they would support Romney “strongly.” And that’s before the inevitable consolidation behind the GOP candidate, before the convention coronation, and before all the ads attacking Obama’s record. Romney is more conservative than McCain, and more conservative than George W. Bush. Conservatives lined up behind both, and faced with the prospect of a second Obama term they would support Romney with considerable vim and vigor.
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I’ll address some of the other misconceptions when I build the positive case, tomorrow, for why I think Mitt Romney is precisely the right person for this moment in our national story. Check back tomorrow.