Political Animal


January 04, 2013 10:48 AM Mr. Forgettable

By Ed Kilgore

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf gives us an interesting peek at a vast “whither conservatism” debate at Commentary that’s mostly going on behind a paywall. A lot of it seems to revolve around how to feel and behave about “the 47%,” with the prevailing sentiment naturally being that treating Social Security beneficiaries as “moochers” isn’t very smart politically.

But it sounds like pretty much everybody is ready to dump on Mitt Romney. And here’s Friedersdorf’s comment on that:

The debate about Mitt Romney is usually portrayed as pitting those who believed him to be “too conservative” against those who found him not conservative enough. That is one rift, but as you’ve seen, there are so many others. These disagreements are almost always present in national parties. But it seems to me that they’re particularly hard for the GOP to resolve after this particular defeat, partly because Romney was so obvious and shameless about changing his positions — any faction can plausibly disclaim him — and partly because conservatives themselves flip-flopped: So many movement types who formally endorsed Romney in the 2008 GOP primaries were denouncing him and casting madly about for anyone else just four years later, even though his positions and rhetoric only got more “severely” conservative in the interim.

In retrospect, it’s easier to understand how Mitt Romney won the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 than to understand how he became the “true conservative alternative” candidate four years earlier, endorsed by Jim DeMint and National Review, and regularly touted by Rush and various Fox personalities. This, more than anything else, probably inhibited conservative criticism of Romney during the 2012 primaries: they couldn’t credibly claim he’d “moved to the left” since they lionized him, and nobody wanted to come right out and admit that Romney’s 2012 positioning as Mr. Moderate reflected a hard shift to the right by the party as a whole.

All in all, everything about Mitt Romney’s candidacy makes him someone Republicans want to forget as soon as is possible: not just because of what he did wrong, but because he so frantically tried to make the conservative movement’s own questionable positions and attitudes his own—and conservatives know it.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Josef K on January 04, 2013 10:57 AM:

    Soon we'll have Conservatives(tm) literally scrubbing the images and names of Romney, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield, De Lay, and every other failed Republican leader out of photos, websites, print archives, whathaveyou. Can't have the public remembering inconevenient facts and figureheads, can they?

    After all, it worked so well for Stalin.

  • Ronald on January 04, 2013 11:07 AM:

    Just as they ran away from Bush, and now from Romney, the Republicans continue to run away from....their own ideas.
    They castigate their former leaders as being 'insufficient to properly expressing the Republican message' without ever defining what that message is supposed to be (other than 'more Right Wing')
    And there is still a battle between the Teapers and the 'Establishment' Republicans that will continue on through 2014.

    One way we can deal with this as progressives?
    Get out the vote in 2014.
    Motivate Democrats to get out there. Register them early, get them voting early, but get them voting.

  • Gandalf on January 04, 2013 11:26 AM:

    They're kind of like a sports team that goes 1 win and 16 losses but refuses to come to terms with the fact that they're not doing anything right.

  • Perspecticus on January 04, 2013 11:32 AM:

    1. Interesting how "conservatives" realize that portraying those receiving SS benefits as moochers is not a winner politically. Not nearly as interesting, mind you, as the fact they actually believe recipients of SS bennies are moochers, but they just shouldn't mention it in polite company.

    2. As Charles Pierce notes repeatedly, what goes unsaid in the discussion of "Romney conservative enuff/not enuff" is the fact that Mitt is the type of person who engenders increasing dislike the more you get to know him.

  • c u n d gulag on January 04, 2013 11:34 AM:

    I've quite a list here to show you, Conservatives, 24 years after Ronald "Maximus" Reagan, your God, left office:
    George H.W. Bush - who raised taxes, and lost his reelection bid. Causing Conservatives to aks, "George H.W. Who?"

    Bob Dole - who lost to Clinton, when he was seeking reelection.

    George W. Bush - who won. But whose Presidency was so disasterous, that you've effectively tried to 'disappear' him from your history.
    Causing Conservatives to say, "We don't know no George W. Bush. Watchyoutalkin'bout?"

    John McCain, and his VP, Sarah "The Whore of Babblin'-on" Palin - "The Gimp," and "The Simp."
    They lost big time, to an African-American with the unlikely name of Barack Hussein Obama.
    Unfortunately, you can't 'disappear' him, since he's still in the Senate.
    And as for Sarah "Not-so Darling," well, she's doing a pretty good job of 'disappearing herself,' every time she opens up her yap, and makes people less and less interested, and more and more appalled, by what comes out of it.

    And now, Mitt Romney - the man who specially molded and tailored his already maliable and pliable self, to fit your champagne wishes and caviar dreams, of what true Conservatism stands for - and the result? You're in the process of trying to 'disappear' him, too.

    That's a long list of candidate failure, and Presidential failure!

    And remember, Ronald "Lower Taxes" Reagan, was the person most responsible for the national debt he left office with, the largest in US history, up 'til THEN, and that "Papa" Bush had to correct with higher taxes, and then Bill Clinton had to further increase taxes to pay for off Reagan's debt.

    And I'm not even mentioning Richard M. Nixon, who was impeached for crimes and misdemeanors, attributable to his personal paranoia and lack of self-esteem.

    Too bad you hated the Soviets so much, or you'd acknowledge that the art of 'disappearing' failed leaders, came from them, and credit them for it.

    That's over 40 years of failure.
    If it wasn't for your use of wedge issues, like racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and/or homophobia, the Green Party would likely get more votes that you party.

    You know what Conservatism is?

    Unfortunately, you've decided to take the whole country with you, into the swirling waters of the toilet you've caused this country to become.

  • jrosen on January 04, 2013 11:35 AM:

    @ gandalf:And blame the refs, the weather, the fans, the stars, anything but look at themselves (and who can blame them as they are beyond ugly?). it is called denial, nad as a recovering alcoholic I know very well what that is like. They will not come to (if ever) until reality smacks them hard; unfortunately, it will smack us just as hard.

    Far from believing in American exceptionalism, I am beginning to wonder if our whole national existence has been founded on a lie, one that we tell to ourselves before we tell anyone else.

  • T2 on January 04, 2013 11:55 AM:

    the GOP establishment NEVER wanted anything to do with Mitt Romney - for a variety of reasons, not the least being he is not a likable person apparently. Any party that chooses John McCain as a standard bearer over Romney just doesn't like the guy. That said, what were their choices? Herman Cain? Rick Perry? Michele Bachmann? There is simply no hiding the fact that today's Republican Party/Conservative Movement has no viable policies and no viable Leadership....Boner and McConnell????? come on. Cantor/Ryan.....no. Just look at the last three guys they've nominated for president - two silver-spoon-in-mouth kids of former politicians- kids that didn't want to be president other than to be able to say they were. And McCain, a foul-mouthed, vindictive guy who no one likes, stupid enough to actually put forward Sarah Palin as fit to be president. They are just a bunch of losers.

  • Rick B on January 04, 2013 11:55 AM:

    @Ronald - you stated " the Republicans continue to run away from....their own ideas."

    What this clearly establishes is that the only thing the conservatives truly believe in is that they should be in power. They have no governing philosophy at all. They have think tanks and PR firms that produce the latest focus-grouped propaganda with which to sway anti-government and anti-Progressive groups.

    Governing gets in the way of the propaganda efforts. When Bush Sr. announced "Read My Lips. No New Taxes" he was taking a propaganda position. When he later committed the great sin of actually governing and meeting national needs by actually raising taxes he committed a great sin against the conservative philosophy of always being the gadfly in the minority - even when the job demands governing.

    Another effect of this blindness of conservatives is that once they get into office they have no moral restrictions to limit the corruption and crony capitalism that becomes possible with the job. "Duke" Cunningham was a great example.

    Corruption and refusal to govern is built into the essential nature of conservatism. It's all just smoke and mirrors to grab power.

  • Sean Scallon on January 04, 2013 11:57 AM:

    How can he be Mr. Forgettable when they can't stop talking about him? I thought this was supposed to be a symposium on conservatism future, not the Romney campaign. It would be like liberals still doing autopsies on the Dukakis campaign.

    Of course, Dukakis were merely a symptom of liberalism's problems in the 1980s and 90s and Romney is in similar fashion a symptom of conservatism's problems. They were technocrats who won their party nominations largely because they were the least-bad option and they had the most money and both were tarred and feathered by their opponents to where they couldn't respond.

    But campaigns are beside the point. Even bad candidates can get elected if what they're saying resonates with the voters (case in point, George Bush I). To talk about Romney seems to an avoidance of the deeper problems facing conservatism, because its easier to dump on him as a bad candidate than it is to question the things you believe in and whether it has any reflection to current reality.

    If they really want to know why things went bad perhaps this little example, one situation which ties into many, can help: In the early 1980s, a wave of mergers and consolidations took place in the food industry, particularly in meat packing. The sainted and late Robert Bork and Justice Department refused to intervene to stop this on anti-trust grounds, thus they continued. And in so doing broke apart the union contracts for the whole industry. Unions went on strike, they were beaten and busted. Wages were slashed in half and families were broken apart. Parents got divorced, single mothers went into the workforce instead of staying at home; daughters got pregnant, unemployable sons got hooked on drugs or went into military. Excesses capacity was liquidated and plants closed, wrecking small towns in the "heartland" where many were located. And when locals didn't wish to work in the plants for $8.00 and hour, the employers who got even richer off your tax cuts, decided to take advantage of the lax immigration enforcement and began to import their workforce to these places for even less per hour, causing even more social dislocation and disruption.

    So you see, you did it to yourselves. All the things you did underminded the very society you were trying to conserve. And the remedies you tried to alleviate the situation - whether it make the rich richer because you thought they would invest in plant and equipment instead of cocaine and wretched pieces of modern art they actually invested in; or more old-time religion which only led to more persons not going to church anymore; or having a nice little war or two to boost patriotism only led to more homeless, crippled or mentally screwed up vets filling up the towns of the "heartland" and adding to the nation's debt in the process - were whistling past the graveyard. You see, you really had it good back in the good old days when tax rate was at 90 percent and unionized workforce was near 50 percent. The only people who complained were crusty old factory owners. Barry Goldwater was more of libertarian than he was a conservative. You got hoodwinked, and you have no one to blame but you. When you realize it instead of invoking Reagan's name as though you think he was going to rise from the dead somehow, then maybe you can begin to start solving your problems.

  • MuddyLee on January 04, 2013 11:58 AM:

    If you want to know how crazy modern republican conservatives are, read Michael Medved's article which tries to convince these conservatives that President Obama is not a socialist who hates America and capitalism. Only the crazy would need such an article. And of course Medved praises Rush and criticizes FDR in his article - which means he needs professional help - maybe he can take advantage of Obamacare...

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  • CalStateDisneyland on January 04, 2013 12:47 PM:

    Sean Scallon - fantastic post.

  • golack on January 04, 2013 1:03 PM:

    Ahh, but the measure of one's true faith is how you can stick to your convictions despite all evidence to the contrary.

    And CalState is right, Sean has a fantastic post.

  • Karen on January 04, 2013 2:22 PM:

    The post says Romney was the 2008 nominee; that was McCain.

  • Steve on January 04, 2013 5:04 PM:

    @Karen: See? How soon we forget.

  • Doug on January 04, 2013 8:02 PM:

    I was going to just write "Who?", but I used that yesterday for Leibermann. So, anyway...

    If Republican voters in enough primaries hadn't wanted the Mittster, they wouldn't have voted for him; FSM knows there were enough alternatives!
    If there is a refusal by "conservatives" to face why Romney failed; if only Romney is blamed for that failure, it's because those people are afraid to find out the reason/s. What if the reasons are not because voters didn't "understand", but because they DID?
    Talk about an existentialist crisis!