Politico's big feature story Tuesday does a pretty good job chronicling the GOP's fears of what could go wrong in the Romney campaign between now and November but it begins jarringly, with with a very strange assertion:
Mitt Romney has done the unthinkable: silenced the legions of conservatives who saw him as too starched, too ideologically wobbly and too Richie Rich to win a few months ago.
Did legions of conservatives sweat the possibility that Romney's career-long flirtation with off-brand political convictions or his staggering wealth might be a turn off to voters? Sure. They sweated this stuff at great length. But was it unthinkable that those same conservatives would inevitably gather in full-throated support of their nominee? Of course not! And it hasn't been unthinkable for quite some time. In fact, here's Politico, back in November 2011, clearly thinking about it:
Conservatives don’t like him. They really don’t like him.
But as Mitt Romney continues to outshine his rivals in every debate and looks more and more like the last man standing in the Republican presidential primary, even longtime critics are slowly -- and in some cases, bitterly -- coming around to the idea that he may end up as the GOP nominee.
If you can admit that longtime, bitter critics are coming around to supporting Romney in November, then it is not "unthinkable" to believe they would do so in the spring of 2012. In fact, this was an eminently predictable scenario. After all, what Romney may have lacked in "true conservative" bona fides, he more than made up for with basic strategic competence and an unimaginably superior war chest -- ever-present advantages in a race where he never trailed his competitors.
Here's a general rule, when you are sitting at home, decoding the political media: When you see the word "unthinkable" deployed in a story like this, it simply means that someone made the mistake of biting down too hard on some hype, got caught, and so they now have to call "unthinkable" the scenario they knew would happen but didn't want to admit would be the case.
Yes, at various points during the GOP primary, there were loud lamentations from the not-Romney crowd. Bill Kristol made a cottage industry out of begging other Republican luminaries to join the race. George Will wrote a column suggesting that the GOP should divert its attention from Romney's White House bid and concentrate on capturing a Senate majority and preserving its advantage in the House. Various Tea Party factions made gaudy declarations that they were going to "stop Romney." And there were a couple of secret, emergency meetings of social conservatives in the late stage of the primary season that were supposed to invigorate the flailing campaigns of Romney alternatives.
There was never any evidence that there was any heart or gumption in these efforts, which I have done my best to not take seriously. Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie resisted Kristol's entreaties. In the days between the leak of his op-ed and its publication, Will did a little bit of walk back, saying that he was not suggesting that Romney could not win the election. FreedomWorks, the organization that was supposed to be leading the Tea Party in its lusty insurgency against Romney's inevitability, attempted one tepid August protest and then largely surrendered. And those last-minute social conservative urgent care cabals ended up producing bupkes.
In our regular Friday evening Speculatron wrap-ups, we very consistently urged people to tune out the hyped-up stories of intractable alienation between the GOP and Romney. There was a simple, fundamental reason: For career conservatives, there are strong incentives to support a Romney presidency. Everyone's cause goes a little further with Romney in office, and everyone in the GOP establishment machine ends up a little more prosperous during a Republican presidency.
All you really had to do was listen to what Conservative Political Action Conference attendees were saying about the race. Was Romney their ideal candidate? Absolutely not. But the strong consensus among the young and hungry conservative activists who spoke to our reporters was that they would strongly support his candidacy, if for no other reason than their opposition to Obama. (With this in mind, you can easily understand why the establishment-to-the-core FreedomWorks went away quietly and quickly after all of its bold "not Romney" pronouncements.) Romney was also invited to deliver the commencement address at Liberty University, so there's no need to write another story about Romney's inability to win the support of social conservative elites again, either.
Politico, of course, is currently in a process of retrenching on the matter of Romney's viability, and it's not pulling it off with the subtlety for which it had hoped. After many months of lumpen concern over Romney's problems -- including this classic bit of WTFery that described how Romney's smashing success was, in itself, a worrisome sign -- Politico is trying to muscle in as much beat-sweetening as it can.
As the month of May dawned, all of Romney's perceived primary problems were now suddenly robust strengths. By June, Romney was depicted as a master political shot caller. (And if you weren't entirely convinced, no worries, because his aide-de-camp, Mike Leavitt, is a total "stallion.")
And, of course, all of this culminated in last week's comical attempt at a media takeout, in which Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen alleged that the press was engaged in an effort to "[scare] up stories to undermine the introduction of Mitt Romney to the general election audience," which, when you think about it, is basically Politico calling Politico out for its Politiconess. ("We are terrible," says Politico, in a Politico exclusive.)
I suppose it would be interesting if the current political scenario actually did feature some sort of intractable, paralyzing discontent between the Romney campaign and his party's elites. But as it turns out, all of these various political actors have behaved precisely as you would expect them to, happily following along with a predictable set of political incentives. So there's nothing "unthinkable" about this. Some people just stopped thinking for a while, that's all.
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