David Frum

09.25.12

It's Not You, Mitt, It's Your Message

It's not a good sign when it's not yet October and people are already asking of your campaign, "What went wrong?"

Yet that's the question Conor Friedersdorf is posing in The Atlantic about Mitt Romney.

Should Mitt Romney lose Election 2012, movement conservatives are widely expected to blame RINOs, Beltway conservatives, and moderates, who insisted that the former Massachusetts governor was the best candidate, supposedly foisting him on reluctant conservatives.

Don't believe that spin. …

Romney's win is part[l]y his own doing -- he committed no major gaffes, unlike his competitors, and performed capably in a seemingly endless series of debates. But he also benefited tremendously from name recognition, superior fundraising, and preexisting support within the GOP. How did he manage those advantages? They're a direct consequence of the widespread support movement conservatives gave him during Election 2008. And no one should let them forget it.

For the talk radio types to insist now, as Romney falls behind in the polls, that the moderates have saddled them with a candidate who can't win is absurd. Their endorsements of four years ago don't bind them to Romney forever. They were perfectly within their rights to back another candidate this cycle. But having insisted that Romney could beat Obama in 2008, they can't very well claim that he couldn't do so this year, when Obama and the Democrats are much more vulnerable. Nor can they claim that Romney isn't sufficiently conservative to be a good nominee, having already praised him effusively as a standard bearer who embodies all the most important parts of conservatism, really and truly feeling them in his heart.

I'd put things slightly differently.

Most of the GOP's field of governors decided against trying their chances in 2012. Over the course of the campaign, Republicans were presented with a choice between four possible presidents (Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman, and Rick Perry) and a long series of impossibles. Pawlenty dropped out early. Rick Perry proved himself unready for the national stage. Jon Huntsman could not find a constituency. That left Romney.

But if governing-minded Republicans chose the candidate, it was the radical wing of the party that dictated his message - and it's the message that is dragging this campaign down.