The presidential campaign has given Republicans quite the reputation for fickleness. What’s with these people, flitting like moths from one conservative flame—Trump, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich, Santorum—to the next? Why don’t they just settle on their one “electable” candidate and give us all a breather until the fall campaign? Perhaps it’s because they’re not fickle, but doggedly unconvinced that Mitt Romney has what it takes to win. This is a party, after all, that has suffered in recent election cycles with past-sale-date versions of Bob Dole and John McCain as its standard-bearers. Both were “electable” on paper, moderately conservative and presentable, but they stirred no hearts or minds among the rank-and-file of their party (or among independents).
You have to imagine that Mitt Romney gave himself quite the pep talk this morning before his big Conservative Political Action Conference speech in Washington. Where his address at the 2008 CPAC signaled the end of his campaign, this afternoon he needed to jumpstart his 2012 run, especially since the people in the audience have been the hardest for him to woo. But, true to form, he did far more resume-waving than rabble-rousing.
When January’s jobs report was released, the unexpectedly large spike in employment was welcome news to just about everybody except Mitt Romney and the Republicans. If the “Obama economy” keeps getting better, what the heck will the GOP run on? How to fire up the folk with the kind of indignation that propels conservative voters to the polls en masse? Now we have an answer: another culture war.
With Rick Santorum’s Tuesday sweep in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, the number of non-Romney “surges” in the GOP presidential contest now threatens to eclipse the number of debates. Pundits respond every time in competing choruses: the “It’s Not Over Yet!” song of jubilation, and the “Sorry, Mitt Is Still Inevitable” retort. It can be as tiresome as hearing Romney recite snatches of “America the Beautiful”—and it presents the campaign as a largely substance-free succession of stats and fundraising numbers and demographics.
In the summer of 2008, revving up for the general-election campaign against John McCain, Barack Obama raised some eyebrows by telling a group of Philadelphians: “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.” He wasn’t talking about fundraising specifically—he was emphasizing his ability to give a punch as well as take it—but he might as well have been: Obama also dismayed some supporters by eschewing the public financing system to make sure he had more than enough artillery ($750 million, in fact) to fend off the Republicans that year.