David Frum

01.25.12

Does the GOP Deserve to Lose?

I sympathize with Bret Stephens' frustration with the Republican field, I truly do. I have been wrestling with many of these same midnight doubts for a long time myself.

Yet Stephens' specific complaint about Mitt Romney seems to me if not unfair, then misplaced — or more exactly, misplaced coming from a writer for the Wall Street Journal.

The usual rap on Mr. Romney is that he's robotic, but the real reason he can't gain traction with voters is that they suspect he's concealing some unnameable private doubt. Al Gore and George Bush Sr. were like that, too, and not just because they were all to the proverbial manor born. It's that they were basically hollow men.

Thus the core difference between Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama: For the governor, the convictions are the veneer. For the president, the pragmatism is. Voters always see through this. They usually prefer the man who stands for something.

I think it's probably true that Mitt Romney is concealing a private doubt, and it is this: Mitt Romney simply does not believe the things that must be said to be a competitive candidate for the Republican nomination. He has zero interest in being a Jon Huntsman-style martyr, so he dutifully repeats them, but he cannot bring himself to repeat them with the conviction that a Republican audience (and for that matter Stephens' higher-ups at the Journal itself) expect and demand.

This disconnect between what Romney must say and what he probably believes weakens him as a candidate, yes. But on the positive side, his disbelief in so many of the things that he is forced to say is exactly the thing that will make him a superior president—superior anyway to a candidate like Rick Perry who actually did believe them.