WASHINGTON — The right wing has lost the election of 2012.
The evidence for this is overwhelming, yet it is the year’s best-kept secret. Mitt Romney would not be throwing virtually all of his past positions overboard if he thought the nation were ready to endorse the full-throated conservatism he embraced to win the Republican nomination.
If conservatism were winning, does anyone doubt that Romney would be running as a conservative? Yet unlike Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater, Romney is offering an echo, not a choice. His strategy at the end is to try to sneak into the White House on a chorus of me-too’s.
The right is going along because its partisans know Romney has no other option. This, too, is an acknowledgement of defeat, a recognition that the grand ideological experiment heralded by the rise of the Tea Party has gained no traction. It also means that conservatives don’t believe that Romney really believes the moderate mush he’s putting forward now. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if the conservatives are forgiving Romney because they think he is lying, what should the rest of us think?
Almost all of the analysis of Romney’s highly public burning of the right’s catechism focuses on such tactical issues as whether his betrayal of principle will help him win over middle-of-the-road women and carry Ohio. What should engage us more is that a movement that won the 2010 elections with a bang is trying to triumph just two years later on the basis of a whimper.
It turns out that there was no profound ideological conversion of the country two years ago. We remain the same moderate and practical country we have long been. In 2010, voters were upset about the economy, Democrats were demobilized, and President Obama wasn’t yet ready to fight. All the conservatives have left now is economic unease. So they don’t care what Romney says. They are happy to march under a false flag if that is the price of capturing power.
The total rout of the right’s ideology, particularly its neoconservative brand, was visible in Monday’s debate in which Romney praised one Obama foreign policy initiative after another. He calmly abandoned much of what he had said during the previous 18 months. Gone were the hawkish assaults on Obama’s approach to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Israel, China and nearly everywhere else. Romney was all about “peace.”