I'm going to stand up for Mitt Romney.
Now you might not realize this, but that last sentence is magical. It's the only phrase in the English language that can bring together all Americans, from the most fervent Ted Cruz supporter to voters who chanted "Yes We Can" through two presidential elections. Now, it's true they would be unanimously opposed to the idea of saying anything good about Romney, but still, it's better than having them fight over defaulting the government.
The Left condemns Mitt based on what he actually did. The 47 percent. Binders full of women. Immigrants should self-deport. "Corporations are people too, my friend."
The Right. Instead, hates him for what he never said. In other words, he never stood up for their brand of conservatism. Mitt was a terrible candidate because he failed to honor his party's convictions, never understood and never championed tea party's principles.
The problem with all this analysis, from both sides, is that it's asking only one important question, while ignoring another just as significant, especially if we want to understand the Republican Party today. Everyone, in other words, is asking why Mitt Romney lost so badly. But no one seems to have pondered the other side: why did he get the nomination in the first place, if he was such a stinker? Especially after a long and grueling process that should have winnowed out the poorer candidates. If both red and blue partisans agree he was a disaster, how did he ever win one of the two major party's endorsement, no easy feat?
Let's start by examining the field. Who went after the Republican nomination in 2012?
There's the Mittster. A catastrophe, a debacle, a fiasco. Tragedy walking. Or so we realize. Now.
But that year, his competition was:
Michele Bachmann: heads the Tea Party Congressional Caucus, so more than conservative enough. Unfortunately she's bat-crazy as well. Went to the convention with only one delegate pledged to her.
Herman Cain: 9-9-9!!! What to do with Iran, how to foster growth in both Detroit and Silicon Valley? 9-9-9!!! Prepared for the presidency by running Godfather Pizza. Won no delegates.
Newt Gingrich: shut down the federal government once before, making him the Ted Cruz of the nineties. That expertise qualifies him as a top commentator at CNN these days, but in 2012 won only Georgia and South Carolina.
Jon Huntsman, Jr,: way too sane. Dropped out early. Won more votes, however, than Jimmy McMillan (see below).
Ron Paul: would close down the Federal Reserve and pull all U. S. troops back from anywhere overseas. 'Nuff said. Banking and defense contractor money alone would have stomped him. Stayed in the race till the end.
Rick Perry: there are three reasons why Rick Perry would not have gotten the nomination: his state is prosperous but has lots of problems; he appeared wobbly and drunk at a major appearance; I can't remember the third one.
Rick Santorum: the closest this country has ever had to having a pope run for president, but in this case it was Benedict and not Francis.
Jimmy McMillan: little known fact: Jimmy McMillan of the "Rent is Too Damn High" faction declared for the Republican nomination in December 2010, making him the first candidate to formally throw his hate in the ring. He really should have received something for having the best facial hair of anyone in any party.
That's the field Romney beat. The tea party analysis is dead wrong in that the Republicans weren't conservative enough in 2012. They started with Bachmann, Gingrich, Perry, and Santorum, as red flagged a group as one could conceive.
But the bigger problem was not just their politics -- right or waffly middle -- but their dullness. They were a lousy crop of candidates.
The Republican Party in 2012 was like a major league baseball team with a terrible farm system. Nobody was coming up who could get to second base, let alone hit a grand slam. In that environment, a mediocre player becomes the star. And when he runs against a pro like Barack Obama, all the shortcomings emerge, and he gets clobbered.
The dirty little secret was that Mitt Romney really was the best Republican candidate in 2012. All the others did far worse in forging popular support. Partisans on either side may blame him for their loss, but until they develop anyone better -- a feat they failed at miserably the last time around -- the Democrats will be on a roll.