The EFM Feature

You may recall that early on in the 2008 race, then-candidate Jim Gilmore — who used to be governor of Virginia, where I live — said he was running against “Rudy McRomney.” The idea behind that jibe, of course, was that there was really no difference between Mayor Giuliani, Sen. McCain, and Gov. Romney. That idea, obviously, did not end up carrying Gov. Gilmore through the primaries. But now, watching the current gubernatorial race here in the Old Dominion state (yes, we do it in “off” years) I wonder if we aren’t seeing the rise of what might be called the “Bob McRomney” phenomenon.
Let me explain.
One never wants to count one’s chickens before they are hatched, but the Republican candidate for governor here, Bob McDonnell, seems headed to a comfortable victory on Nov. 3. He is unquestionably a social conservative, but the race has not revolved around those issues. Rather, he has hit his opponent, a state senator from the Charlottesville area, largely for his penchant for spending other people’s money in ways that inhibit job creation. He is a man of faith, but he tends not to remind you of it at every opportunity. He has a large and attractive family. Last but not least, he’s got pretty good hair.
Is it just me, or does that sound a lot like the way a Romney-Obama race in 2012 should look? The president and his allies in Congress, after all, are spending my and my unborn kids’ money like it’s their own — and we all know that is Gov. Romney’s strongest territory. Add to that our current foreign policy fecklessness (as ably summarized by Mark Steyn today), an issue on which Gov. Romney seems to have found his voice, and you’ve got a double-whammy.
What about social issues? Great question. That is where the rubber really hits the road with this fanciful comparison.
Bob McDonnell’s last job was as Virginia’s attorney general; he resigned to run for governor. Before that, he represented the Virginia Beach area in our House of Delegates (the lower house of the General Assembly). During his time there, he developed a close relationship with Virginia social conservatives — partially by attending Pat Robertson’s Regent University. Meaning? They knew him, and he didn’t need to prove himself a “true conservative” by joyriding around the state loudly promising to ban all abortions immediately.
The governor of a state doesn’t have the power to do that, you’re saying. Roe v. Wade is in the way. It’s immaterial; why would conservative activists demand that kind of fealty? It’s fanciful. Yes, I know. But do you remember what happened in the ’08 presidential race?
Yes, that’s right: We had a lengthy debate about who was and wasn’t willing to support an immediate constitutional amendment banning abortion, as opposed to overturning Roe and returning the decision to the states. As if the latter isn’t an enormous step forward, not to mention more than enough to keep the next pro-life president busy.
Why was that? Well, two reasons, if you ask me. The first is that too many conservative evangelicals want entirely too much out of politics, thinking that they can elect a messiah figure rather than a fellow sinner who (at best) will make incremental progress against the sin that is and always will be rampant in this world. And the second is that unlike the current situation here in Virginia with Mr. McDonnell, the national social conservative movement did not have a history with Gov. Romney and did not trust him. That was partially understandable (given that he did not become pro-life in a political sense until quite late in life) and also regrettable (given that he underscored his pro-life convictions with a controversial veto).
But what about 2012? If Gov. Romney runs, it seems to me there is at least a chance that he might have more of a McDonnell situation. In addition to his actions in office in Massachusetts, he’s been through the national wringer. Even if you think his pro-life conversion was totally opportunistic (which I do not) it is absolutely fanciful to suggest he’d go back on it now, after all the scrutiny that’s been placed on his views. So if the conservative base would let him, my guess is he’d much prefer to run a race a lot like the one I’m seeing here in Virginia — one that certainly does not deny his social conservatism, or his religion for that matter, but also one that wears neither item on his sleeve as the most important thing you must absolutely know about him or else. Instead, he’d get to talk about his economic-turnaround expertise, and his desire to see the president of the United States make the case loudly for American values, rather than apologizing for our nation at every opportunity. His speeches would be about making the next half-century of our history great, not explaining the minutiae of the last five years of Mitt Romney’s innermost thoughts.
I’d suggest to you that that would be a race likely to result in good things for conservatives, and for America. But do you remember the “if” I mentioned above? Yes: This is the kind of race I think Gov. Romney would like to run if the conservative base lets him.
If we decide the key criterion in a leader of our country is not whether we would let him preach in our church’s pulpit.
If we agree that it’s immaterial whether the president would prefer to ban abortion via state legislation, national constitutional amendment, prayer, or pixie dust, as long as he is pro-life.
I’m not saying we pick a liberal. But I am saying we get over what David has called the Conservative Messiah complex.
I fear this a very big “if” indeed. But I’m hopeful. Are you?

About Charles Mitchell

EFM's resident Yankee, Charles Mitchell, works in the non-profit arena in his native Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Charissa, live near the state capital of Harrisburg with their daughter, Adeline, and are members of a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.

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