A year back, presidential contenders lined up behind three words to roll
back federal spending: cut, cap and balance. Texas Gov. Rick Perry
early on posted an essay of support in The Washington Post to
emphasize a division in the ranks of conservatives. It was the
definitive moment and it came down to this: Whose side are you on? The
Tea Party or the Establishment?
Perry had entered national political life in the front lines of the Tea Party. The question was really what side Mitt Romney was on, as the nomination was by then in his sights. Romney surprised the conservative establishment by getting behind Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who championed cut, cap and balance. But he did not surprise a second time. Ryan has since become the choice of mainstream punditry. He is, as The Weekly Standard has it this morning, the “intellectual leader” of the Republican Party. Just a short time ago Ryan’s approach was considered a radical departure from conservative conventions and traditions. Now it is mainstream. But he is the wrong choice for VP.
An important element to this is that according to reports, on Thursday, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and senior writer Stephen Hayes urged Romney to choose Ryan. What is most unfortunate is that Romney in the clutch did what the Weekly Standard told him to do. The thinking, mine included, that Romney would be a detached and imaginative thinker who could establish a new vision of conservatism with emphasis on the rising creativity in the Western states — Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), for example, captures the imagination of the rising American moment — is dashed to pieces. He’s not. Romney is now the new official agent of East Coast Conservatism — “the establishment.” He will do what they say and he will fall in line. He will be a Mormon George W. Bush and that now suggests his primary initiative all along: to become president to legitimize Mormonism in the hearts and minds of the republic, as Jack Kennedy did for Irish Catholics. In our time, no one should care.
The first act of a hopeful president — choosing a VP — may be considered instinctive, as it has no precedent to form a pattern and has the potential to give an indication of how the future president will govern. If so, this one will do what Kristol and Krauthammer tell him to do. Charles Krauthammer’s comment that “Paul Ryan has that Reagan-like quality” is enough to gag a horse.
Romney might win, but at best, he has missed the opportunity to be the definitive president of our times. That critical, defining moment draws near. Romney will not mark it. Look to 2016 for that.