Opinion and Elections and Taking Issue

RUSTHOVEN: Romney is sufficient for conservatives

November 26, 2011

Rusthoven“The perfect,” Voltaire observed, “is the enemy of the good.” Conservatives should start reciting this with our bedtime prayers, lest insistence on the “purest” candidate hand a second term to President Obama.

Mitt Romney is not the favorite among social or economic conservatives (with this author among many who are both). Reasons include past Romney positions on abortion and, of course, RomneyCare, Massachusetts, precursor of ObamaCare.

It’s understandable why conservatives have explored other options. My choices were Gov. Mitch Daniels, followed by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and perhaps New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. All had strengths. All chose not to run. Others taking a pass (wisely, in my view) included Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee.

The search for the Non-Romney has since entailed serial elevation of four candidates. First was Michele Bachman, who rapidly revealed along the way why she’s run through five congressional chiefs of staff in four years.

Next was Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose entry was so anticipated that he led the polls on announcing. It’s been downhill since. Perry has been an effective governor, but plainly cannot hit major league pitching.

Then came Herman Cain, this cycle’s incarnation of the straight-talking outsider who’ll bring common sense to Washington. It’s a great approach—and a very political one, by the way, which is why it recurs. Ross Perot was better at it.

Sexual misconduct charges aside, Cain is uninformed on topics that don’t matter if you’re running a pizza chain, but that an American president really should understand. As noted in a prior column, he didn’t know China had nuclear capability. Later, asked why he disagreed with Obama’s Libya policy, Cain could not answer, citing too much “stuff twirling in my head.”

The latest Non-Romney, Newt Gingrich, has shot up in GOP polls. The former House speaker is glib and smart, and thinks he’s brilliant (ask him). He brings more intellectual heft and national experience to the table than do Bachman, Perry and Cain. But Newt brings other things as well.

Let’s leave his personal life out of it. Gingrich is the quintessential “Washington insider.” To cite two examples, he received some $1.6 million in “consulting” fees from government-sponsored Freddie Mac of mortgage-crisis fame (which he claims valued his insights as a “historian”) and millions more lobbying for drug companies.

And Newt cannot shut-up. In this campaign he has called Obama “the food stamps president;” labeled the Ryan budget (supported by Dick Lugar and Mike Pence) “right-wing social engineering;” and said it “would have been a failure of citizenship on my part” not to run for president.

To quote Dolly Parton, “There’s more where that came from.” Gleeful Democrats are armed with decades of Newt material. Gingrich reminds one of “The Four Seasons” movie scene where a frustrated spouse asks, “Do you think your thoughts should just fall down from your brain onto your tongue like a gumball machine?”

Gingrich is singularly undisciplined. As the nominee (and as president), he would always be one sentence away from disaster.

As Democrats Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell just wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “the White House has concluded that if the president cannot run on his record, he will need to wage the most negative campaign in history to stand any chance.”

It’s imperative that Republicans not play into this. Romney is not as conservative as many of us prefer. But he would be a vast improvement on Obama. And he cannot be portrayed as a dangerous or personally unsuitable presidential choice.

That’s priority number one. Romney meets it. Gingrich doesn’t.•

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Rusthoven, an Indianapolis attorney and graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, was associate counsel to President Reagan.

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