Jacob Heilbrunn

Why Are Conservatives Sabotaging Romney?

Conservative anger with Mitt Romney has steadily accompanied his campaign from the outset, like the monotonous drum beat in Ravel's Bolero. There was the carping over his bona fides because of his espousal of health-care reform as governor of Massachusetts. In recent weeks, conservatives such as George F. Will and Bill Kristol have been decrying the ineptitude of his campaign. Now, in the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer joins the wilding of Romney.

As is his wont, Krauthammer does not engage in understatement. He suggests that Romney could almost singlehandedly turn around his campaign by focusing on—you guessed it—foreign affairs. Krauthammer believes that Obama "casually dismissed the murder of a U.S. ambassador"—in fact, he began his speech at the United Nations with a testament to Libyan ambassador Chris Stevens—and fails to take seriously "the epidemic of virulent demonstrations from Tunisia to Sri Lanka (!) to Indonesia." Should he have told their governments to crush them? Krauthammer further writes that Obama offered a "groveling address to the U.N. General Assembly"—by insisting on the centrality of free speech? No, in Krauthammer's world, the speech consituted a "plaintive plea by the world's alleged"—who's doing the alleging?—"superpower to be treated nicely by a roomful of the most corrupt, repressive, tin-pot regimes on earth." OK, these fulgurations are par for the course when it comes to Krauthammer. No one would read his column looking for a nuanced dissection of where the Obama administration has actually gone wrong and right. Instead, he himself offers tin-eared neocon dogma about the fecklessness of Obama & Co.

More interesting is his supposition that Romney could put a blast of wind into his sails by more vigorously denouncing Obama's lassitude. You might think that Romney had already stuck sufficient feet in his mouth with his precipitous and absurd statement about Obama kow-towing to Islamic terrorists right after the murder of Stevens, but then you wouldn't be living on Mr. Krauthammer's planet. Krauthammer wants Romney to "go large. About a foreign policy in ruins."

The truth is that the ruination of the Romney campaign has in part been the handiwork of neoconservatives such as Krauthammer. Yes, Romney is a middling politician. Yes, his campaign has struggled to find its footing. But part of the reason, as a number of commentators such as Fareed Zakaria have noted, is that the GOP itself is becoming an antediluvian party, stuck with a host of orthodoxies that no longer comport with new realities. Nowhere is this clearer than in foreign policy, where the old mantra that America need simply flex its muscles and the rest of the world will fall into line has become gospel for the GOP.

Perhaps the biggest problem for Romney may be that the ideological straitjacket he keeps trying to don doesn't fit him. The union between Romney and conservatives will never be conusmmated. Romney's progressive foes keep pointing to what they see as his penchant for prevarication. But what if the opposite is the problem—that Romney is a bad liar, trying to sell policies that he knows are bogus. The only thing that would speak for Romney, in other words, is that he can't speak for himself. But perhaps the moment has arrived for Romney to emancipate himself, to, as Hillary Clinton once put it, find his voice. The upcoming presidential debates will offer him his last chance to turn around his battered campaign, or a looming defeat will turn into a landslide for Obama. And if Romney does win the election—and, as the New York Times' Charles Blow wisely notes, it can't be precluded—he will know that he did not accomplish it because of conservative support but despite it.

Image: Gage Skidmore