With Mitt Romney's "conservative" opponents destroyed by his lavishly financed onslaught of personal attacks against them, the great general-election question about the man called a weathervane by some, and the "Etch a Sketch" candidate by others, is this:
When will Mitt Romney next betray the right? When will he weathervane toward women, pander to Hispanics, Etch a Sketch toward teachers, nurses, police and firefighters his Republican governors fire and his Republican allies attack with more budget cuts and new rampages against collective bargaining?
2012 is the year of the great conservative crack-up. It began with Republican front-runner Donald Trump parading across the nation like Sherlock Holmes promising to reveal that the president is not an American. It will end with Romney, a man who is a stranger to principles conservative or otherwise, carrying the banner of a movement and party that offer little more than a pathological antipathy to the president and a monumental hunger for power.
I introduce to you the standard-bearer of the movement that was once called conservatism and the party that was once led by Lincoln and Eisenhower. He is the latest new Nixon, named Mitt Romney.
Romney is not Ronald Reagan, or Jack Kemp or George Romney. He is Richard Nixon, minus the depth. Like Nixon, Mitt Romney has mastered the black art of destroying opponents (Trump, Cain, Gingrich, Santorum and Perry) with hugely financed massive attacks.
The hapless pseudo-conservative opponents Romney destroyed will now join what is called the conservative movement in their ultimate humiliation in the great conservative crack-up of 2012:
They will bear false witness to the nation ahead of the general election, expressing admiration for a man many of them privately loathe and campaigning to elect a man many of them secretly hope will lose.
This is the great conservative crack-up of 2012. Their champions Trump, Cain, Perry, Gingrich, Santorum and Paul were unqualified fringe candidates, unworthy of the presidency, unelectable even among Republicans, leaving conservatives to pretend they admire the man who repeatedly invents new Romneys, the way Nixon invented new Nixons.
It is a Faustian relationship between what once was a great conservative movement with historically important thinkers and leaders, which is now reduced to championing the election of a Nixonian Republican they hold in contempt to defeat a Democrat they loathe and despise and at times hate with a ferocity and anger that is privately troubling to some serious conservatives who are too afraid to state publicly what I write here, which they privately believe.
In the conservative crack-up of 2012 most of their new conservative governors are highly unpopular. They are accused of waging a war against women, abandoned by huge numbers of Hispanics and reduced to hoping America fails economically because they can't handle their nightmare of a successful America under a Democratic president named Obama or Clinton.
No, this is not about race. This is about the thirst for power of the Republican establishment and the angry rage of the conservative right. They hated or held in contempt John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Edward Kennedy. They despised Hillary Clinton. They tried to impeach Bill Clinton in an attempted constitutional coup d'état. They loathe and despise Al Gore. They attacked the heroism of a war hero, John Kerry, demeaned the heroism of an amputee, Max Cleland, and ridiculed the heroic service of Republican John McCain, whom I publicly defended as aggressively as I defended Kerry and Cleland.
This is Politics 101. Reagan was a large figure who could transcend this. Romney is a small figure who is learning he cannot simultaneously pander to the disparate electorate of a diverse nation, has no vision or values to unite the nation and looks (and is) phony in his constant shape-shifting that has defined his entire career.
George Romney stood up to the beast in his party; Mitt Romney panders to it today, and will betray it tomorrow, while pursuing a Nixonian strategy for the general election that will not work.
What do conservatives stand for today? Read their commentaries and they are dripping with personal invective, derision, anger, rage and at times hatred directed against the president.
They wave the Bible while suggesting that the jobless want to be jobless and the poor want to be poor. They wave the flag while mocking the true American notion of civic respect and tolerance. They wave their angers and their fears like badges of honor. They are surprised, when Mitt Romney employs savage Nixonian attacks against fellow Republicans in primaries, that voters think less of all of them. They are bewildered when they oppose pay equity for women, and are accused of waging war against women whose programs they attack and whose fair pay they refuse to champion.
What are conservatives left with, after their crack-up of 2012? They are left with how much they despise the president, and how they will turn back the clock to the good old days of Bush and Cheney.
Ronald Reagan has left the arena; the great conservative voices are gone; the new Nixon will not be enough.
This column was originally published at The Hill.