On Loving Your Candidate

Now that we've gone through one politician after another Republicans thought would be just totally awesome and should run for president -- Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, and one (Rick Perry) who got in, then promptly showed he wasn't so terrifically skilled after all -- the question of the day has become, "What is Mitt Romney to do? He's plodding toward the nomination, but Republicans don't love him!" To which I say, what's the big deal?

It isn't like this hasn't happened before. Republicans have nominated plenty of people they weren't particularly psyched about. Some of them lost (John McCain, Bob Dole), but some of them won (George H.W. Bush, Richard Nixon). Nominating a candidate you aren't passionate about does complicate things a bit -- it can mean fewer volunteers and probably less money raised -- but it's hardly fatal.

And Democrats can certainly sympathize. Before 2008, they had a long string of candidates they thought were uncharismatic (John Kerry, Al Gore, Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale) or ideologically suspect (Bill Clinton). I vividly recall being at the 2004 "Take Back America" conference when Texas firebrand Jim Hightower told the crowd, "There are those who say that John Kerry is not liberal enough. I don't care if John Kerry is a sack of cement, we're going to carry him to victory!" The thing about 2004 was that by the time Election Day rolled around, Democrats were quite motivated, because they really hated George W. Bush. Even if Romney is the nominee, Republicans will be similarly motivated by their dislike of Barack Obama.

Perhaps they wish they could have a candidate who would inspire the kind of worship (and action, and money) that Obama did in 2008. But that campaign was something truly remarkable, not just once in a generation but maybe once in a half-century or so. If it's any consolation for the GOP, the Obama '12 campaign won't have that magic either. Romney has plenty of weaknesses, but Republicans could do a lot worse. The fact is that the current crop of leaders in their party are so ideologically radical or so personally repellent that they don't have a whole lot of options.

We'll now enter the malaise period of the election, where Republicans will lament what might have been if only [insert your favorite non-candidate here] would have run. But they'll get over it, and as time goes on, they'll start to feel better and better about Romney, when instead of comparing him to some fantasy Republican candidate, they're comparing him to Obama.