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Settling for Romney
If he wants to win over conservatives, he’ll need to stop being vague and timid.


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Mona Charen

Two new sets of Republicans are feeling deflated today — the Chris Christie hopefuls and the Sarah Palin stalwarts. The Christie decision didn’t surprise me, perhaps because I grew up in Jersey. In fact, Christie and I attended the same high school. Anyway, Jerseyans are many things (not all of them nice), but slick dissemblers we are not. When Christie said, repeatedly, and in ever more colorful terms, that he wasn’t running, I believed him. And, while I understand the boomlet for him, I’m also a little relieved to see that he is indeed a truthful guy.

Sarah Palin, by contrast, has finally dropped the longest tease in the history of presidential politics. Her bus tours, her visits to Iowa and New Hampshire, her coy references to the importance of finding just the right candidate to challenge Obama (prompting predictable chants of “Run Sarah Run” from her audience). Her refusal to say whether she was in or out. She could use some Jersey straight talk.

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Still, there are a few diehards out there who cannot quite relinquish the pursuit of a knight errant. No sooner did Governor Christie reconfirm that he will not be running for president than some of the great mentioners began to whisper that the “big donors” are encouraging Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) to make the race.

Sheesh. It is no reflection on Mr. Cantor to say that this is beginning to look desperate and even a little pathetic. I confess to having participated, to a point, by urging first Gov. Mitch Daniels (choir sounds please) and then Rep. Paul Ryan to run. But those pleas were in December 2010, and August 2011. It’s too late now. The first primaries are only a few weeks away (bad move Florida, but oh well). Preparing to run a presidential race is just too complex. It takes months — even years — to assemble the local activists (also called the ground game), the money, the advisers, the advertising team, the speechwriters, the advance men, and the other necessities of modern campaigning.

Additionally, the candidate him or herself has to bone up on dozens of issues so as not to be caught flat-footed in debates (some of the current crop neglected that part). No one can do all of that at this late date.

So, realistically, we have our field of candidates, and we’re going to have to settle for one of them.

Yes, settle. I’m disappointed, too, that my favorites decided to sit this out. And I wish the Palestinians really wanted peace, that Vladimir Putin were a democrat, and that the San Andreas fault would go quiet. But part of being a conservative, I believe, is taking the world as you find it and dealing with it.

So, how do we feel about Romney? A year ago, I made the bold prediction that he was going nowhere. Romneycare, I believed, would prove a millstone around his neck and he would be unable to recover from it.

I was wrong about how much of a role health care would play in the race. Obamacare remains important, but as a part of the larger issue of the failing economy. And Romney is widely perceived to be strong on economic issues.

Romney has also proved very fortunate in his adversaries. First Tim Pawlenty swung and missed (or, actually, failed to swing). Then Perry stumbled in attempting to recite Romney’s past flip flops. It’s as if some Harry Potter figure has placed a charm on Romney, causing toads to fall from his opponents’ mouths when they open them — or making them produce gibberish.

To be fair, Romney, who was a good candidate in 2008, has become an excellent one in 2012. He’s knowledgeable, unflappable, and dignified. He doesn’t frighten independents and he may be the Republican party’s strongest nominee — and we simply must win in 2012.

But for Romney to overcome the hesitation among conservatives, he needs to shed his excessive caution and boldly embrace a platform of profound reform. This is an epochal political year, pitting competing governing philosophies against one another in the starkest match-up since 1980. On entitlements, the great anchor dragging down the ship of state, Romney has been vague and timid. 

Romney’s literature promises that he will repeal Obamacare, yet his proposed reforms are not so much a bold departure from the top-down Obama approach as a promise to be a better manager. His website promises, “Mitt will use limited federal regulation to correct common failures in insurance markets, while eliminating counterproductive federal rules.” It’s proposals like that that make our hearts sink.

— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2011 Creators Syndicate, Inc.



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