Ever since Barry Goldwater lost his bid for the presidency in 1964, the conservative movement has been looking for a choice, not an echo (Goldwater's mantra). Reagan came close, but compromised too often on taxes and back-slapped with Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill too often to give them total satisfaction. George W. was almost the putty-in-their-hands they'd craved, but the vast corruption he tolerated left a record they couldn't boast of, and his wild deficit spending (including two wars they allowed him to put on the credit card and the budget-busting Medicare prescription bill) frustrated their aim of reducing the government until it could be drowned in the bathtub.
Mitt Romney hasn't won their hearts either. He has shed so many of his previous positions in order to appease the Tea Party that he sounds as if he is reciting by rote Conscience of a Conservative -- Goldwater's declaration of principles -- and just might forget it all the morning after his inauguration.
This was never Romney's party, and without Karl Rove's shadowy money behind him, he would not have survived the primaries. So shape-shifting a figure was unlikely ever to inspire the front line troops in an election the Right sees as a showdown with the Anti-Christ at Armageddon. In this campaign, Romney is now the "the man who isn't there" -- the dispensable one.
But in Paul Ryan, the Golden Boy from Janesville who schooled himself in the ideology of right-wing think tanks inside the Beltway, they finally have one of their own -- a true believer for the new Gilded Age.
The country, too, now has a choice, not an echo. And that should add up to a definitive election in November.