A version of this column appeared originally on THE DAILY BEAST.
Why do so many prominent pundits and politicos on the right who embraced Mitt Romney as their champion in 2008 reject him now as a gutless, unprincipled moderate and unworthy standard-bearer for the conservative cause?
The answer to that uncomfortable question has nothing to do with changes in Mitt Romney (if anything, he’s gotten more conservative in the last four years) but it does indicate troubling tendencies within the Republican Party and the nation itself.
In February, 2008, the most influential (and persuasive) right winger of ‘em all threw his all-important support to Romney’s then struggling candidacy. “I think now, based on the way the campaign has shaken out, that there probably is a candidate on our side who does embody all three legs of the conservative stool, and that’s Romney,” he told his massive audience. “The three legs of the stool are national security/foreign policy, the social conservatives and the fiscal conservatives.”
After Rush highlighted the de facto endorsement in his newsletter with the headline “One Candidate Now Represents All Three Legs of Conservatism” the rest of syndicated talk radio (Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck) largely followed suit. Laura Ingraham introduced Mitt at CPAC as a “true conservative” and “a conservative’s conservative.” Only one lonely, courageous voice among the top-rated national hosts (and that would be me) openly dissented and proudly (and perspicaciously) endorsed McCain. Even Jim DeMint, the most conservative member of the US Senate, fell in line behind the Mittster.
But this time, conservatives seem wary, cynical or downright hostile to Romney’s smooth and formidable campaign. Instead of praising Romney as the perfectly balanced, three-legged-stool conservative dream candidate, El Rushbo now says, “Romney is not a conservative. He’s not folks. You can argue with me all day long on that, but he isn’t.” (October 13). Erick Erickson of RedState.com goes even further, wailing that “Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican nominee. And his general election campaign will be an utter disaster for conservatives as he takes the GOP down with him and burns up what it means to be a conservative in the process…He is neither liberal nor conservative. He is simply unprincipled.”
What did Romney do, exactly, to inspire such angry contempt?