Suddenly Mitt Romney

Why Romney? Why now? Possibly like John Mayer, all this time, Romney has been "waiting for the world to change." The difference this time is not with Mitt Romney. Romney does not change. Romney does not "reinvent" himself. The difference this time is with us.

Recent polls have shown Republican aspirants for 2016 bunched together between 9 and 11 percent. This week, after almost offhanded comments on the Hugh Hewitt radio program when asked if he would run in 2016, Romney said, "Circumstances can change, but I'm just not going to let my head go there." The press perked up. Then in a USA Today/Suffolk University poll released Wednesday, the former Republican presidential nominee came up with a whopping 35 percent of the vote in an Iowa Republican caucus, while the others remained in single digits.

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Romney's rise today may go back to the first Iowa primary almost eight years ago, when he was said to put up $25 million only to lose to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Both Romney and Huckabee are very religious people and that might well have played in Iowa. In 2008, the fact that Romney was a Mormon played on the hearts of a lot of Americans, particularly in the South and Midwest. Huckabee, a preacher by trade, could well have profited from that. (Certainly through no intention or action of his own.) But those inclined to doubt Romney because he is a Mormon may have turned to a Southern Baptist preacher in reaction.

Romney's sudden jump this week might be seen as a tailwind of what historian Dan Carter called the "new conservatism" in his inspired text The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism and the Transformation of American Politics.

Carter traces the roots of the new conservatism to Alabama's firebrand segregationist Gov. George Wallace (D) who ran for president in 1968 on the American Independent Party ticket: "Without using the cruder vocabulary of traditional racism, George Wallace began his national career by skillfully exploiting those fears and hatreds," he writes. "And as the civil rights movement expanded in the 1960s to inspire the women's rights movement, the antiwar movement, and the politics of sexual liberation, George Wallace adroitly broadened his message. Journalists might greet this growing counterculture with curiosity, even approval. But Wallace knew — instinctively, intuitively — that tens of millions of Americans despised the civil war agitators, the antiwar demonstrators, the sexual exibitionists as symbols of a fundamental decline in the traditional cultural compass of God, family, and culture."

Or as it translated into bumpersticker vernacular, "Gods, guns and guts made America free."

The new poll which puts Romney at 35 percent suggests that the political season and influence of this phase of conservatism is waning in influence.

All candidates are coy in early days and bring denials, but Romney could well have predicted that the Mormon factor was more a political neurosis than anything else. It would pass with time and familiarity with him, but it would require a little more time; three attempts instead of the usual two to run for president.

Today, conservatives scramble for an alternative to the libertarian Pauls, father and son, much as President Eisenhower gathered the conservative establishment in private meetings to find an alternative to libertarian Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.). Romney's father, George, then-governor of Michigan, was one of Ike's top choices. This in 1963, before the rise of the "new conservatism." That Romney senior was a Mormon was never an issue.

Quigley is a prize-winning writer who has worked more than 35 years as a book and magazine editor, political commentator and reviewer. For 20 years he has been an amateur farmer, raising Tunis sheep and organic vegetables. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and four children. Contact him at quigley1985@gmail.com.