The Conservative Case for Mitt — Over Newt, That Is

OK, for just one moment, I’m going to take the Newt Ginrich campaign semi-seriously. Ezra Klein has a very nice post on policy positions (sometimes) held in common by Newt, Mitt Romney, and…Barack Obama. It’s a good start towards the long list of positions Gingrich has taken that are violations of conservative orthodoxy.

The idea that the Mitt-averse should go to Newt because he’s a more reliable conservative is even more preposterous than switching to Newt from Herman Cain because of a search for a candidate with a better marital record. Not as preposterous. More.

Paul Waldman has an excellent post on this out today:

So do Gingrich and Romney share the same character flaw of unbridled opportunism that causes these changes? The answer is no. In fact, even though they share some of the same flips, the way they happened illuminates something essential about who each man is and how they make decisions. Mitt Romney flip-flops carefully, after a period of calculation in which he determines the most appropriate strategic positioning required to achieve his short- and long-term goals. Newt Gingrich flip-flops impulsively, taking positions that sound good at a particular moment without any apparent regard for the past or the future.

So: if you’re a mainstream conservative and wind up with Romney as president, you know that he’ll betray you sometimes, but — to the extent this is true — it will be a careful, thought-out, purposeful betrayal. That means a lot of things. It means the betrayal may be one in which you would agree, if you knew what Romney knew about the situation; it may be one in which organized opposition could prevent the betrayal, because overcoming that opposition would have to factor into the situation; or, at worst, it would be a betrayal that was designed to keep a Republican (that is, Romney) in the White House. Hey, it’s still a betrayal — and you have to figure going in that Romney doesn’t actually believe the stuff you believe. But it’s somewhat manageable. It’s not unlike the Reagan betrayals, or on the other side the Obama betrayals.

Newt? You’ll be betrayed by him, too. He’s no conservative; he is, as Andrew Sullivan says, a radical, a Jacobin. The problem is that his betrayals will be, essentially, random and personal. As Bruce Bartlett puts it:

This is typical of Mr. Gingrich’s modus operandi. He has always considered himself to be the smartest guy in the room and long chaffed at being corrected by experts when he cooked up some new plan, over which he may have expended 30 seconds of thought, to completely upend and remake the health, tax or education systems.

It’s not so much that Gingrich has taken the wrong position (from a conservative point of view) on various things; it’s the way he comes to it, which appears to be entirely personal and idiosyncratic. I’m not just saying that he has nothing in common with Burkean conservativism, although Sullivan is certainly correct about that, but that there’s no consistency or predictability at all. Or, rather, the only consistency is that he completely wants to redo and remake and tear out everything and start all over again, although what he wants to remake and how it should be remade vary from week to week, or even hour to hour.

Of course, that’s on top of the history of ethics violations, the marital stuff, the poor performance as Speaker, and the perhaps relevant fact for Republicans that voters have never really liked the guy at all. All of course I could understand conservatives overlooking if we were talking about, say, a Jim DeMint. That’s just not what you have here, and conservatives, in my view, would have to be completely nuts to even consider handing over their party to him.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.