Conservatives: Unite in Panic or Pop Popcorn?

So at this stage in the Week of Romney Redux, the conservatives who largely resisted Mitt’s 2012 campaign (and their large list of potential 2016 champions) seem to be of two minds. WaPo’s official conservative-watcher Robert Costa reports that they mostly profess to being upbeat. Some clearly think this development is the best news since the Great Recession drowned all those freeloading non-creditworthy homeowners. With Romney in, the Establishment is officially split, and maybe Mitt, Jeb and Chris Christie will kill each other off or move the whole GOP to the right as they compete to sign litmus tests and call each other godless RINOs. So from that perspective Mitt ’16 reduces the pressure on conservatives to make an early choice among Carson, Cruz, Huckabee, Jindal, Paul, Pence, Perry, Santorum and Walker (and Lord knows who else). The reaction of rightwing warhorse Brent Bozell is characteristic:

“I’m just going out to buy popcorn and watch,” he said. “It’s going to be the first time in a long time where you’ll see multiple candidates fighting over the moderate standard of the party, instead of only seeing the conservatives battle each other.”

But even in Costa’s account there are dissenters to the prevailing happiness, notably Iowa radio gabber and Christian Right activist Steve Deace:

“Some conservatives think Romney is self-delusional, but that doesn’t mean we should sit back,” Deace said. “Are we going to split our vote again? It’s time for us to find someone and say, ‘This is our son with whom we are well pleased.’”

Borderline blasphemy aside, Deace is reflecting the self-awareness of conservatives who understand their divisions had a lot to do with John McCain’s nomination in 2008 and with Romney’s four years later. But the one thing that is clear about the rush to the starting line of Bush and Romney this year: it’s lighting a fire under the rest of the field to get a move on, making this potentially the craziest Invisible Primary ever.

The other thing that’s clear is that Steve King’s “let me vet you” festival (officially called the Iowa Freedom Summit) on January 24 in Des Moines could be perfectly timed to have a massive impact on the opening odds of the nomination contest. Costa quotes King as indicating he’s invited Romney to the event, but that Mitt may have a scheduling conflict. It’s hard to imagine an event too big to reschedule in order for a Republican presidential candidate to kiss King’s ring, unless it’s the Second Coming, but we’ll see. Meanwhile, the scramble on the Right will most definitely get noisy.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.