As conservatives prepare for an urgent meeting this weekend to discuss their options in the 2012 campaign, they face an epic crisis of identity and electability that creates rising odds for the reelection of President Obama.
Throughout the 2012 campaign, there has not been one credible conservative candidate for the presidency.
Conservatives now face a choice between a front-runner of no lasting convictions -- who has lost campaigns for two out of three major offices he has previously run for and who champions a predatory capitalism that applauds layoffs when jobs are the primary issue -- against a divided group of second-tier candidates that may be the weakest field in the history of presidential politics.
To explain why this has happened, consider William F. Buckley:
I knew William Buckley. I admired William Buckley. Conservatives today are not William Buckley. Without Buckley in the 1960s there might not have been President Reagan in the 1980s.
I met Buckley when I was too young to vote, drink or shave and worked for the great liberal congressman Allard Lowenstein, a close friend of Buckley. Buckley was often at Lowenstein's home when I was present. He believed Lowenstein was a great man and despite their different views, supported Al for Congress.
Buckley believed in creative conservative ideas. He fought hard to banish hatred and extremism from the conservative movement. It was this vision, which promoted the rise of Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan, that is absent today.
Conservatives leaders today have supported or tolerated invective, ugliness and at times, pure hatred of the president that Buckley, Kemp and Reagan would have ferociously condemned. This attitude of poison and venom that dominates much of our politics led the most qualified conservatives (especially Mitch Daniels) to refuse to even run for the nomination and prevents the most electable conservative (Jon Huntsman) from being nominated.
As conservative leaders prepare to meet in emergency session, they are faced with a divided field of lightweights, big-government conservatives, crony capitalists, a conservative who debates whether three people should be married, a candidate who demands advocates of Freddie Mac go to jail after taking huge money from Freddie Mac and fibs that he earned it as a historian, a candidate who proposes re-invading Iraq, an 18th-century conservative and a very electable conservative who reluctantly says he is conservative.
Conservative leaders should have long ago denounced attacks against the president's Christianity and Americanism, united behind a credible conservative candidate and stopped making excuses for lightweight vanity players or vindictive venom players who are unfit to lead and unable to win.
Conservatives might soon look like North Korean mourners showing exaggerated emotion for their dear and deceased leader, if they must champion Mitt Romney as the last best hope for those who despise the president.
President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher were conviction politicians; Romney is America's conviction-less politician. He has treated ambitions to be governor, senator and president as corporate takeovers, claiming he believes whatever will get him a majority of stock in whatever he wants.
Romney's conviction-less politics have usually failed. He was soundly defeated by Ted Kennedy for the Senate, defeated by John McCain in 2008, and so unpopular as governor that he probably would have been defeated had he run for reelection.
The GOP battle will not be decided until Super Tuesday at the earliest. Even then, a majority of delegates might still favor someone other than Romney.
Conservatives should remember their great moments in history and leaders such as Buckley, Kemp and Reagan.
If Republicans run a candidate like Thomas Dewey in 1948, or Barry Goldwater in 1964, America will reelect President Obama in 2012. I must admit this is an outcome I favor, which looks more likely to me every day.
This column was originally published at The Hill.