Some amount of firing squad is needed in light of the loss this week of the presidential campaign.
Oddly enough, I’m not aiming at Mitt Romney himself. I agree with many commentators who say Romney emerged as a better candidate than expected, someone who came around to articulating a vision worthy of a Republican nominee. Romney grew during the campaign, and his first epic debate performance almost saved the campaign. I wish Mitt and Ann nothing but good.
I also acknowledge that every other potential candidate had issues at least as great as Romney if not greater, and it would be far too convenient to say that choosing Romney lost us the election … because it’s not clear which of the other declared candidates would have won.
That said, I’m taking aim at the establishment conservative media which sought to preempt the Republican electorate by ganging up on every challenger to rise against Romney during the primaries, most particularly Newt. In doing so they not only defeated Newt, they missed or ignored fundamental flaws in Romney’s candidacy that eventually did him in.
There was a clear and inherent problem in the Romney candidacy. Romney was a doomed candidate because of his background and persona.
Call it unfair if you must, but reality was reality, and that reality did not change even when blinded by hatred of Newt.
When I announced my support for Newt on November 16, 2011, I saw the problem:
A candidate has to have an intangible quality that leads people to want to get out and work, and vote, and fight like hell for the candidate. That is not enough to make one presidential (see, Obama), but it is a necessary component of general election victory which Romney does not possess….
Romney was who he was, and who he was never was an inspirational political leader who could drive even supporters to the polls. In a business and personal context Romney inspired great loyalty, but that experience did not translate to politics. You can change many things in a candidate, but you can’t create inspiration.
It is no coincidence that many of the headlines this week are about the McCain and Republican voters who did not show up last Tuesday.
There also were flaws in Romney’s approach of scorched earth tactics towards opponents, but not towards the media. Newt recognized more than anyone that in order to win we had to take on the media, particularly the racial politics at the heart of the Democratic agenda:
Confronting the media was what drove Newt into the lead for a time being:
Yet confronting the media is what Romney avoided in the general election, and we paid the price.
Whether the completely dishonest and contrived “Binders” narrative or the absurd attack on Romney for Obama’s failure of leadership on Benghazi, we just took it from the media once again, and it hurt badly.
Romney’s inherent flaws were exacerbated by a supportive conservative media driven not by love of Romney but hate of Newt. As Newt rose during the primaries by confronting the mainstream media, the conservative media rose in unison with the Romney SuperPAC to demonize Newt beyond imagination often based on old personal grudges.
Jennifer Rubin at WaPo lashed out multiple times daily with the most personal and vicious attacks. Ann Coulter, having announced Romney a sure loser just months earlier, rose up to smite the Newt in kamikaze fashion. Pin the Lobbyist Label on Newt became a parlor game at The Washington Examiner.
For the Editors to single out Gingrich for this kind of raking — particularly when his accomplishments in government dwarf anything his rivals have managed to achieve — fails the test of judgment conservatives expect from National Review. The transcendent mission of our founder calls for explicating principled conservative arguments about the great issues of the day, not “winnowing” intra-GOP primaries….
The conservative media joined in Romney’s portrayal of Newt as Crazy, without any regard to the consequences if Newt ended up as nominee; those same people cried foul when Newt went after Romney on Bain, declaring the attacks practically treasonous because of how they might play out in the general election.
Yet it was on Bain and the narrative of the heartless businessman that the Obama campaign did the most damage to Romney … just like Ted Kennedy did in 1994. Newt was called socialist and assorted other names for raising the issue. By conflating the defense of capitalism with the defense of Bain, we did ourselves irreparable harm.
So too the income tax return issue rose early in the process, but was shut down by a cacophony of conservative media as beyond inquiry. It’s hard to tell how much damage Romney’s secrecy as to his income taxes did in the general election, but it certainly didn’t help and was an easy lay-up for left-wing bloggers.
Yet none of these inherent Romney weaknesses were examined during the primaries. Instead, we were fed a narrative of electability. I wrote a series of posts in which I questioned the assumptions were were being told about Romney’s electability:
- What if everything we have been told about Mitt Romney’s electability is wrong?
- What if everything we have been told about Mitt Romney’s electability is wrong? Part 2
- What if everything we have been told about Mitt Romney’s electability is wrong, Part 3
- What if everything we have been told about Mitt Romney’s electability is wrong, Part 4
Voting Obama over Newt or staying home was an alternative, we were told. The closing of ranks took place with Romney as the nominee, including at Legal Insurrection. I’m doubtful it would have taken place with Newt, or Rick Perry, or Rick Santorum as the nominee.
David Limbaugh correctly summed up the reaction of the establishment conservative media (emphasis mine):
Ironically, many who’ve laid claim to sober, adult political analyses the past few years and have scolded others for their alleged harshness in attacking Obama are the very ones who have thrown caution overboard in their relentless, unmeasured scorched-earth savagery of Newt Gingrich.
Though recognizing his weaknesses, I prefer Newt Gingrich over Mitt, and Rick Santorum and maybe Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann over both. But without hesitation, I’ll vote for Romney should he get the nomination. Can the Romney supporters say the same about Newt?
Pointing out everything I have pointed out above is not a circular firing squad. It’s a lesson.
The lesson is not that we should have picked Newt. He had his flaws, for sure, although it’s interesting to speculate as to what might have been, both good and bad.
But at least Newt had a sense of what was needed to win — inspiration and confronting left-wing narratives head on.
We picked an inherently flawed candidate pursuing a flawed approach, and excoriated every alternative. We did not trust our own electorate.
It’s a lesson I’m sure has not been learned.