The Republicans still have a lot of bullets in the magazine. Mitt Romney's tin ear, Rick Santorum's gag reflex, Newt Gingrich's endless pomposity and Ron Paul's narrow-minded consistency all come accompanied by big feet to shoot at. You can't blame the Democrats for putting in a call to the caterer for a November party.
Messrs. Romney, Santorum and Gingrich all promise to rally around the ultimate winner, but fear grows in the not-so-grand party that they're encouraging independent voters, and maybe a lot of the faithful, to stay home on Nov. 6. But there may be nothing to fear but fear itself. When Hillary Clinton lost a brutal fight for the Democratic nomination four years ago, many women were so angry they vowed never to vote for Barack Obama. But they did, and the rest is unhappy history. When this year's campaign devolves to a one-on-one race, the Republicans, too, can get over their snits and pouts and galvanize themselves.
The Ronald Reagan precedent may apply, too. Romney is dogged by the complaint that he's simply "not conservative enough." That's what they said about Ronald Reagan as governor of California, where he presided over enactment of much liberal legislation, including a permissive abortion law. But when he became president of the United States, he defined "conservative."
Romney didn't help his case with his description of himself as a "severe conservative." Methinks the gentleman doth boast too much, but Reagan, too, embraced the conservative label in words long before deeds. The Gipper also had his gaffes along the way, blaming trees for smog and telling a funny story about the Mafia that terrified his aides that he had lost the Italian-American vote with one joke. The Gipper sprang from the rich and glamorous (old) Hollywood crowd, where the only working-class blokes in Tinseltown lived in the imagination of moviemakers.
The Gipper's conservatism, like Mitt Romney's, was always more fiscal than social, and he persuaded voters that he understood what was wrong with the economy and how to fix it. He had the gift of returning criticism with wit and humor. When he was scolded for calling the recession a depression, he snapped back: "A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. The recovery will be when Jimmy Carter loses his."
Like the Gipper, Romney rarely commits a gaffe on the economy. He talks up making it easier for entrepreneurs to start and run a business, and making it big enough to hire others. His call for a leaner government and less spending puts the focus on the huge debt dragging America down. If Mitt Romney is no Ronald Reagan, neither was Reagan at this stage of the 1980 campaign.
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