Ramesh I wondered, too, about Ross’s claim that David Brooks’s column this week was “the last word” on the Romney question. Brooks makes some fairly odd assertions. For instance in this paragraph:
The leaders of the Republican coalition know Romney will lose. But some would rather remain in control of a party that loses than lose control of a party that wins. Others haven’t yet suffered the agony of defeat, and so are not yet emotionally ready for the trauma of transformation. Others still simply don’t know which way to turn.
Brooks thinks some of “the leaders of the Republican coalition” know that Romney will lose but support him anyway because they “would rather remain in control of a party that loses than lose control of a party that wins”? Who might be one of example of a “leader” (or anyone else) who thinks that way? And who is a leader of the Republican coalition who has never yet suffered the agony of defeat? Someone awfully young I suppose.
More generally, though, Brooks’s column seems to confuse the Reagan coalition with the Bush administration, and (as Brooks has done in several recent columns) conservatism generally with a kind of temperamental anti-rationalism.
I agree with Brooks that a winning Republican candidate would need to make a case to lower middle class families above all. But I think the Republican coalition is actually well-positioned to make that case if it wanted to. What you need is a coalition candidate who wants to. That’s probably not a role best filled by a liberal–albeit pro-life Christian–populist (like Huckabee, who wants to appeal to lower middle class families but can’t be a coalition candidate) or a temperamental maverick (like McCain, whose self-image puts him too far “beyond politics” to talk believably about middle class anxieties). Could Romney do it? Perhaps he is the least ill-suited to it, but it’s far from clear that he wants to try, and the automaton problem that Ross and David Brooks both diagnose keenly is very real. It is important not to underestimate the costs of nominating a candidate who is just kind of strange in basic human terms–it cost the Democrats the last two presidential elections.
Least ill-suited, though, is often (almost always really) the best any party can hope for in a candidate, and I think Brooks seriously underestimates the potential of the Republican coalition in 08. If only potential were enough.