George Will dismisses Newt Gingrich as a faux-conservative with a liberal, big-program for everything mindset, dismisses Mitt Romney as a soulless, unlikeable techocrat cut from the same cloth as Thomas Dewey and Mike Dukakis but with a greater inclination to flip-flop, and exhorts Republicans to reconsider Rick Perry (groan!) and Jon Huntsman (gasp!).
Before settling for Romney, conservatives should reconsider two candidates who stumbled early on.
Rick Perry (disclosure: my wife, Mari Will, advises him) has been disappointing in debates. They test nothing pertinent to presidential duties but have become absurdly important. Perry’s political assets remain his Texas record and Southwestern zest for disliking Washington and Wall Street simultaneously and equally.
Jon Huntsman inexplicably chose to debut as the Republican for people who rather dislike Republicans, but his program is the most conservative. He endorses Paul Ryan’s budget and entitlement reforms. (Gingrich denounced Ryan’s Medicare reform as “right-wing social engineering.”) Huntsman would privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (Gingrich’s benefactor). Huntsman would end double taxation on investment by eliminating taxes on capital gains and dividends. (Romney would eliminate them only for people earning less than $200,000, who currently pay just 9.3 percent of them.) Huntsman’s thorough opposition to corporate welfare includes farm subsidies. (Romney has justified them as national security measures — food security, somehow threatened. Gingrich says opponents of ethanol subsidies are “big-city” people hostile to farmers.) Huntsman considers No Child Left Behind, the semi-nationalization of primary and secondary education, “an unmitigated disaster.” (Romney and Gingrich support it. Gingrich has endorsed a national curriculum.) Between Ron Paul’s isolationism and the faintly variant bellicosities of the other six candidates stands Huntsman’s conservative foreign policy, skeptically nuanced about America’s need or ability to control many distant developments.
As to Perry's debating skills, a President's ability to present his ideas forcefully and cogently can be helpful in rallying public support for his agenda. Of course, we can see how well that has worked for Obama, the greatest speaker in the history of forever, not to mention George Bush, an epic mumblemouth, but still, let's not toss out both baby and bathwater here. I think a huge part of Newt's appeal is his ability to deliver a conservative message in a way that Rush Limbaugh can but Rick Perry cannot and Mitt Romney will not. Newt may have no ability to govern (or win) but I would pay extra to watch him run.
And while on the subject of Rick Perry, let me steal a point from (IIRC) Jonah Goldberg - Perry adopt a lot of right-wing symbolism, as packing heat to gun down stray coyotes, but that masks some distinctly no-conservative attitudes on, for example, immigration. The net result is that conservatives feel more or less sympatico with the guy even though they don't agree with him on everything.
Jon Huntsman, by pandering for the NY Times endorsement, has managed the opposite trick - people who might actually like his positions can't get behind a guy who clearly doesn't like them.
Troubling. Still, my commitment to defeating Obama is so great that I will even re-consider backing a guy who thinks I am a knuckle-dragging, unreconstructed maroon. But only briefly, and only because George told me too.