This November, millions of conservatives will find themselves in the familiar position of holding their noses to vote for a problematic Republican presidential candidate, because the alternative is far worse.
Although conservatives don’t exactly have fond memories of the candidacies of Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole in 1996 and Senator John McCain in 2008, the almost certain nomination of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has its own sting.
In 2010, tea-party energy swept a new generation of conviction conservatives into statehouses, governors’ mansions, and the U.S. Congress. Many on the right held out hope that the big payoff would be putting a principled conservative in the White House.
Instead, at a pivotal juncture in American history, the best hope for replacing President Obama now rests with a man who claims to be “severely conservative” with the same degree of conviction he once conveyed when claiming to be “progressive.”
In a new e-book, Conservative Survival in the Romney Era, I try to reconcile two competing responses on the right — disillusionment on the one end and a desire to reflexively fall in line behind Romney on the other.
Clearly, sitting out the election isn’t an option for conservatives, given the need to defeat Obama. On the other hand, refraining from criticizing Romney now that he’s the presumptive nominee would lead us down a treacherous path.
In 2000, the short-term desire to defeat Al Gore made conservatives overlook the dangers inherent in George W. Bush’s big-government “compassionate conservatism.” Then, as conservatives expended energy defending Bush from liberal attacks during his presidency, the Republican-controlled Congress tossed aside limited-government principles, and spending soared. It rose from $1.86 trillion in 2001 to $2.98 trillion in 2008, according to the Congressional Budget Office, an increase of 60 percent. Not only did Bush fail to reform entitlements, he actually expanded them — in the form of the Medicare prescription-drug law — by more than any other president since Lyndon B. Johnson.
As the United States hurtles toward a fiscal crisis fueled by runaway spending and an unsustainable welfare state, the nation cannot afford a repeat of this pattern under a Romney presidency. That’s why it is important for conservatives to make it clear early that they will have no qualms about criticizing Romney if he doesn’t run and govern as a conservative, although they will gladly give him their support when he earns it.