John Podhoretz of Commentary has a thoughtful article today, on "The GOP's Way Forward," re-thinking what went wrong and responding to the doomsayers who bemoan the putative hopelessness of the future of conservative politics. There are many worthwhile observations in the piece, fodder for future discussion, but I particularly admired the balance and insight of his evaluation of Mitt Romney's candidacy.
Podhoretz is a clear-eyed observer of the bigger picture, and made the valuable observation that the Obama campaign shaped the very field the GOP had to choose from:
There were more attractive, more presentable, and more (theoretically) electable possibilities-potential candidates as conversant with conservative ideas as they are with practical governing strategies and who possess the vocabulary to unite the two. But those possibilities might either have had problematic family issues or other private matters they did not want aired-or they were simply intimidated by the immensity of the challenge or by the relative paucity of their own experience on the national stage. They would not enter the race no matter how much they were touted or how eagerly major donors assured them they would raise the necessary dollars to win the nomination. The conditions were favorable for a dramatic charge at a wounded sitting president, and yet they would not go.
Thus, the $1-billion-dollar laser-guided munition, discussed early enough in 2011 to make anyone nervous, may have been the "killer app" of the entire campaign.
That left Mitt Romney and the rest of the field. Romney was going to run in any case, under any circumstances. He had nothing else to do; he had spent nearly two decades preparing himself for such a run and had tried in 2008; and as we learned from his bid, he had exactly two bad stories anyone could tell about him in the course of his 66 years on this earth
Nevertheless, the sheer might and sophistication of the propaganda masters of the campaign and its media allies managed to portray the Dudley Doright of candidates as a Hannibal Lecter, devouring the vital organs of businesses and tossing aside the corpses of workers and their families, victims of his predation.
Romney's fatal error, in Podhoretz's analysis, was his "contentless" campaign.
His lack of a clear vision was not only a weakness, though it surely was that; it was also a conscious tactical decision. Many of us thought at the outset that his candidacy was certain to founder on the shoals of his own health-care plan in Massachusetts, which had been a model for ObamaCare. That had been his signature accomplishment, and if one issue united the Republican Party, it was its opposition to a universal health-care mandate.
Because he could not discuss health care, he was better off being relatively vague on all aspects of policy. When policy types complained there was little substance to his campaign, he put out a 59-point plan-with few specifics, and therefore just another way of being vague. During the primaries he boiled down his 59 points to seven; by the time the general election rolled around, those seven had been boiled down to five. (snip)
The contentlessness of the Romney campaign was a vacuity of the center-right-an effort to reach out to that 53 percent by being as airy as possible. The most telling line in Romney's largely self-written convention speech was "President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans. And to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family."
Yes, but how? Only a fanatic would think Barack Obama wouldn't want to "help you and your family." Romney's answer to this was "jobs," presumably because the word "jobs" tests well in focus groups. But for the American middle class, the woes of the past few years and the worries about the future are more complicated than that.
Read the whole thing. Podhoertz doesn't claim to give us all the answers, but he raises a lot of good questions.