David Frum

02.13.12

Norquist: Romney Will Do As Told

Is Mitt Romney so weak he won't be able to stand up to Congress?

The most quoted speech at CPAC this year was Mitt Romney's, but my vote for the most significant goes to Grover Norquist's. In his charmingly blunt way, Norquist articulated out loud a case for Mitt Romney that you hear only whispered by other major conservative leaders.

They have reconciled themselves to a Romney candidacy because they see Romney as essentially a weak and passive president who will concede leadership to congressional conservatives:

All we have to do is replace Obama. ...  We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don't need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget. ... We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don't need someone to think it up or design it. The leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years will be coming out of the House and the Senate.

The requirement for president?

Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States. This is a change for Republicans: the House and Senate doing the work with the president signing bills. His job is to be captain of the team, to sign the legislation that has already been prepared.

This is not a very complimentary assessment of Romney's leadership. It's also not a very realistic political program: congressional Republicans have a disapproval rating of about 75%. If Americans get the idea that a vote for Romney is a vote for the Ryan plan, Romney is more or less doomed.

To date, sad to say, Romney has worked hard to confirm this image of weakness.

Nobody wants a president who acts as the passive instrument of even generally popular groups like labor unions. (Did you know that—despite decades of declining popularity—unions still have an approval rating of 52%? I didn't until I looked it up.)

But a candidate who appeases the most disliked people in national politics? That guy will command neither public affection nor respect.

Mitt Romney badly needs his Sister Souljah moment. Instead, he's running as Jim DeMint's doormat.