During Mitt Romney's failed bid for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, he demonstrated a potent knack for wooing the conservative commentariat. While not every big name fell for him, a bevy did, including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Hugh Hewitt, and the editors of the National Review. But if our former governor runs again in 2012, will his right-wing charms still beguile?
Maybe not. Consider Romney's evolving treatment at the hands of Limbaugh, the biggest star in the right-wing media firmament. Before John McCain locked up the nomination, Limbaugh did his voluble best to push Romney as an alternative. After Romney's ballyhooed December 2007 speech on his Mormon faith and the role of religion in public life, for example, he called Romney's musings "the kind of stuff I've been dreaming of hearing in a presidential campaign." (Romney, he added, "exemplified characteristics of somebody who is not afraid to lead.") Two months later, Limbaugh touted Romney as the one GOP candidate whose conservative credentials — on fiscal policy, social issues, and national security — were unimpeachable across the board.
Recently, though, Limbaugh seems far less smitten. In May of this year, he scoffed at a group of big-name Republican pols — including Romney, McCain, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, among others — who'd just formed a new organization, the National Council for a New America, aimed at re-branding the GOP in the age of Obama. Romney and the rest, Limbaugh argued, were primarily concerned with advancing their own careers — or, as he put it, with indulging their "presidential perspirations."
Why did Rush fall out of love? Because he'd found someone else: former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, whom Limbaugh described in the same show as the "most prominent and articulate voice for standard, run-of-the-mill, good old-fashioned American conservatism" during the '08 campaign. (Sorry, Mitt.)
Of course, given Palin's subsequent resignation from Alaska's governorship, and her abiding lack of self-discipline, she and her strange brand of anti-intellectual, rural-everywoman Republicanism might not pose a threat to Romney — who hails from Republican royalty and boasts a Harvard JD and MBA — by the time the primaries roll around. Even if Palin self-destructs, though, Romney has another problem to contend with: namely, Massachusetts's landmark 2006 health-care-reform law, and the way that law jibes with current conservative sensibilities.
Hark back to the National Review's endorsement of Romney in December 2007. The editors didn't exactly see him as a perfect candidate: they urged Romney to demonstrate more passion, and allowed that his views on certain issues have evolved rather . . . drastically. But they, too, praised the depth and breadth of Romney's conservatism. (For good measure, they also called him an "exemplary family man" and a "patriot whose character matches the high office to which he aspires.")
National Review's editors haven't yet recanted like Limbaugh. However, with health-care reform dominating the national political debate, they did publish a lengthy article in the July 24 issue, titled "Romney's Folly," that cast Massachusetts's health-care system as an unmitigated debacle.