Despite my consistent criticism of Mitt Romney for the healthcare law he championed in Massachusetts, and for his seemingly countless -- and politically convenient -- position shifts on any number of issues, I am somewhat perplexed by some of the attacks against him today. Ask a broad swath of conservatives their opinion of Romney, and more than a handful will describe him as an unacceptable RINO ("Republican In Name Only") who would scarcely be better than President Obama. I'd venture a guess that quite a few Townhall denizens adhere to this mentality. One major figure who's sounding the clarion call against Mitt Romney these days is talk show titan Rush Limbaugh, whose talent is prodigious and whose show is unmatched in its entertainment and informational value. Yesterday, Rush warned his massive audience that Romney is no conservative:
"Romney is not a conservative. He's not, folks. You can argue with me all day long on that, but he isn't... This isn't personal, not with what country faces and so forth. I like him very much. I've spent some social time with him. He's a fine guy. He's very nice gentleman. He is a gentleman. But he's not a conservative."
That's not a vitriolic attack in the least, but it's certainly an ideological judgment -- one that many people share. But what was Rush's assessment of Romney a few years ago, when he was in a dogfight with John McCain and Mike Huckabee for the Republican nomination? Let's hop into the memory machine and flash back to Rush's broadcast on Super Tuesday, 2008:
"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. The three stools or the three legs of the stool are national security/foreign policy, the social conservatives, and the fiscal conservatives. The social conservatives are the cultural people. The fiscal conservatives are the economic crowd: low taxes, smaller government, get out of the way."
Following that monologue, Rush posted this headline on his website:
I'm not raising this issue to score "gotcha" points against a guy whose professional successs I admire, whose abilities I envy, and whose work product I enjoy. Rush is absolutely fantastic, and I agree with a large majority of his opinions. I'm just curious what, specifically, about Mitt Romney has changed between February 2008 and October 2011? And don't say Romneycare. Then-Governor Romney signed that stinker into law nearly two years before Limbaugh -- and other born-again Romney critics, including "The Great One," Mark Levin -- served up de facto endorsements in 2008. All the flip-flops are still there, too. I'm genuinely asking. TARP, maybe (even though Romney wasn't in Congress to vote on it, and has criticized elements of its interpretation)? His lefty-echo demagoguery against Rick Perry on Social Security? Help me out here.
Perhaps the argument at the time was that Romney was the most reliably conservative of the three viable candidates. (As someone who's never been much of a Romney guy, I didn't buy into that explanation). I'd also readily concede that the political climate has shifted markedly since 2008, and that the urgent need for conservative reform is much more acute and palpable today than it was back then. I also don't disagree that there are more conservative alternatives than Mitt Romney in the current GOP field. There surely are. A strong case can be made that there are more conservative viable Republican alternatives to Romney, as well. What I do not understand is how people who swung their support behind Mitt in 2008 because of his triple-barrelled conservatism can turn around and flatly state that Romney "is not a conservative" now. I'll leave you with this footage of conservative hero Mitt Romney dropping out of the 2008 race, clearing the path for unacceptable RINO John McCain to cruise to the nomination. I was in the room at CPAC when he delivered this speech, and some people were on the brink of tears:
Three years hence, Romney is McCain, and Cain -- for the moment, at least -- is Romney. Politics is a strange beast, my friends.