Sunday, December 18, 2011

Grow Up: Endorsement Edition

Mitt Romney's impressive list of endorsements has been growing steadily since before he even announced he was running for president.  Notable Romney backers include Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, former Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, and well-known conservative firebrand Ann Coulter.  The list also includes approximately ten times as many current and former governors, senators, Congressmen, and state legislators as all the other candidates combined.  The sheer number of endorsements he's received is especially telling when you consider that many of his Congressional endorsements come from former colleagues of his co-frontrunner, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

These endorsements, however, have all been shrugged off or explained away by people who can rationalize "the establishment" coalescing around "the establishment candidate".  Not that I have ever accepted the label of "establishment candidate" applying to Romney (or not applying to Gingrich), but it's easy to dismiss endorsements from people whose names you've likely never heard, or publications (like mine) that you've probably never read more than a few times.  In the case of endorsements from the likes of Christie, Pawlenty, and Coulter, there are myriad rationalizations to be made.  "Christie's not really as conservative as we first thought."  "Pawlenty just wants to be his vice president."  "Ann's obviously lost her mind."  And, of course, the label RINO (Republican In Name Only) gets thrown around quite liberally (pun intended?).

However, the trend of conservative politicians, pundits, publications, and polls towards the Romney camp just keeps climbing.  It saw four major endorsements just this last week.  The first came from Christine O'Donnell, former Senate candidate from Delaware.  O'Donnell's run for the Senate epitomized the "Tea Party vs. Establishment" fight in 2010 in a way that almost no other election story that year did.  She defeated a candidate handpicked by the Republican Party to run and who was seen as an easy path not only to victory but to returning control of the Senate to Republicans.  Primary voters in Delaware, however, couldn't care less about the national agenda and chose the candidate they wanted.  Conservatives all across the country rallied to O'Donnell's candidacy, flooding her campaign coffers with money and bringing her longshot bid to the attention of the whole nation.

So you can imagine, when she endorsed Mitt Romney this last week, it caused no small amount of shock on the part of Tea Partiers everywhere.  Publications and pundits have been downplaying the importance of the endorsement, with some going so far as to express surprise that the Romney campaign would enthusiastically embrace and promote it.  However, that strikes me as a bit disingenuous.  O'Donnell had quite a brand about her, after all.  No matter what level of respect she commanded from either her supporters or detractors, she was always seen as a "true conservative hero".  For her to now endorse a man who is viewed by many as the very type of politician against whom she ran in 2010 is seen by some as a betrayal of that brand.  However, as she points out in her endorsement, Romney was one of the first to call and congratulate her on winning the nomination in Delaware, and he immediately donated to her campaign.  They are, perhaps, a bit of an odd couple, but they truly believe in each other.  While O'Donnell may have lost some supporters after this, it only strengthens my own already high opinion of her.

Next came the Washington Examiner, seen by many as the definitive conservative alternative to the Washington Post (sorry, Washington Times), featuring writers such as Michael Barone, Philip Klein and Byron York.  It is owned by the same parent company that owns the Weekly Standard, one of the more reliably conservative magazines in the U.S.  Declaring Romney to be the GOP's best choice and "the only Republican who can beat Obama" predictably brought accusations from readers that they had "sold out to establishment elitists", declarations of disappointment, and vows to never read the Examiner again.  I've noted before that people should beware of assuming the most "vocal" responses are indicative of general sentiment, so it's easy for me to imagine the Examiner's endorsement inspired more thoughtful reconsideration of Romney among conservatives than it did anger amongst those who now consider the Examiner to be "dead" to them.  However, it's still disconcerting when a presumably long-term reader of a publication would abandon it over an endorsement like this.  We're all too willing to live in echo chambers, apparently.

The third endorsement of note came from Nikki Haley, Governor of South Carolina.  Conservatives rallied around her as the first woman governor of SC, the current youngest governor in America, and the second Indian-American to become a governor.  Symbolically, at least, she's one of the most inspiring figures in the Republican Party, even if her single year in office has already hit some bumps in the road (what governor hasn't in his or her first year?).  She's been staunchly and consistently pro-life and anti-tax throughout her time as a legislator in SC and as governor, and, until she endorsed Mitt Romney for president this week, was seen as firmly in the Tea Party.  "Why, Nikki?" one outraged former supporter demanded. "Why would you compromise your principles?"  I doubt this person ever honestly considered that Romney actually shares Haley's principles; if she had, then maybe she'd realize it doesn't take a compromise.

Attempts to marginalize Gov. Haley's endorsement have been almost as ridiculous as the attempts to smear her during her own primary battles were.  Does anyone doubt the governor of South Carolina can influence who does well in South Carolina's primary next month?  But the attempts to "explain" her endorsement have been even worse.  Some say she's returning the favor, since Romney endorsed her campaign last year.  Some speculate that she wants a spot on the ticket with him.  Both are direct attacks on Haley's integrity.  After all, not everyone whom Romney endorsed in 2010, 2009, or 2008 is behind him now, just like not everyone who is behind him now can expect a "job" in his White House.  The more people accuse conservatives like Gov. Haley of playing "quid pro quo" after having previously supported them, the more they make themselves look like fools.

Finally, the Des Moines Register Editorial Board issued its endorsement on Saturday after interviewing every candidate participating in the Iowa Caucuses.  This could be the most crucial endorsement Romney has received, given the influence the DMR has in Iowa.  Listed from the beginning of the article are three elements Romney himself looks for in a leader and the board notes are absent, in whole or in part, from the other possible nominees:  Sobriety, Wisdom, and Judgment.  It noted the evolution of Romney over the years from an independent to a moderate Republican to a conservative.  Some say it has been a "convenient" conversion for him, but DMR responds, "It should be possible for a politician to say, 'I was wrong, and I have changed my mind.'"

Another excellent, well-reasoned, considerate endorsement, right on the heels of several other endorsements from publications and individuals that examine Romney on his merits and not on how he makes them "feel". And, predictably, on the heels of the endorsement came the wailing and nashing of teeth by those who "feel" the most strongly about the endorsement. To everyone who calls himself or herself a conservative, it's been great seeing your passion and desire for purity on display these last few months and even years; but it's time to use your heads.

Romney is the best candidate; not the best to win the nomination or to beat President Obama in the general, but the best to actually be president. If we had nominated him four years ago, then we can be certain of three things: One, unemployment would be below five percent right now (I list it first because it's the most important). Two, there would be no ObamaCare, either in its current form or in RomneyCare-gone-national form, because Mitt was on record even back in 2007 as saying he wouldn't impose a mandate at a national level (and he was saying this at a time when conservatives still thought the individual mandate was a good idea). And three, there would have been no government takeover of Detroit (read his "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" article in the New York Times from Dec. of '08).  An excellent record of job creation and balanced budgets throughout his professional adult life, no government takeover of healthcare, and no bailouts of private industry. What else could Tea Partiers ask for in their nominee? I've been to plenty of rallies in the years since they began holding them, and the answer is "nothing".

I'm not trying to short-circuit the primary process.  I believe everyone should vote their conscience, and I certainly don't believe in dictating other people's choices for them.  I do, however, believe in endorsements.  When the Washington Examiner, Nikki Haley, Christine O'Donnell, Chris Christie, the Des Moines Register, Tim Pawlenty, Ann Coulter, and literally hundreds of other serious lawmakers, executives, pundits and publications start lining up behind Romney, representing a fair cross-section of both long-term supporters and recent converts to his candidacy, it's time to stop declaring anyone who stands with Mitt a RINO or a sellout.  It's time to stop declaring that you've been "betrayed" and that your heroes are "going along to get along".  It's time to face the possibility that you yourself may have been wrong this entire time.  It's time, basically, to grow up.

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