Mitt Romney doesn’t seem to realize he is campaigning for two jobs, not one. He is doing quite well in the race to become the Republican nominee for president, and must still be considered the strong favorite. But ever since Barry Goldwater captured the GOP nomination in 1964, the Republican nominee has been more or less the titular head of the conservative movement, the most important single component of the Republican party. It is that race that Romney is doing so poorly in, as evidenced by the willingness of many conservatives to vote against him.In response, Conner Friedersdorf argues that the right's quest for a reliable ideological champion is highly impractical, since few GOP presidents actually governed as conservatives -- especially Richard Nixon, who was way to the left of Barack Obama, and even Ronald Reagan, under whom taxes and the federal government grew inexorably.
Romney would help himself and his party if he realized that he will have a much higher chance of winning the general election if he reaches out to conservatives and convinces them to be enthusiastic. It’s one thing to win the vote of every anti-Obama voter in the country, but on his current trajectory Romney will fail to convince many of them to make that extra effort to get their friends and neighbors to the polls. That could ultimately mean the difference between victory and defeat — and for now Romney seems oblivious to that fact.
True enough. But the Fund-Freidersdorf exchange fails to address two distinct but related possibilities. First, Romney might not want to be the leader of the conservative movement as it now exists. A moderate his one time in government, as a presidential candidate he's a Potemkin conservative who's trying to do the right-wing mystery dance but is stepping on everyone's toes because he can't wait to waltz to the center in the general election and in office. And conservatives, sensing that this is true, may prefer that Romney, even if he manages to get nominated, will lose so they they can spend Obama's second term Reagan-questing for 2016, and then for 2020, and forever. For these conservatives, a moderate in the White House, a pretender to the leadership of their movement, is a perfect vision of hell.