One of the great stories of the 2012 Presidential election campaign that will find its way to history books and Wikipedia is the utter lack of enthusiasm for Mittens on behalf of his own party. It's not just liberals and moderates who have found the former governor of Massachusetts equal to the excitement of a prostate exam. I am already nostalgic for this past winter's primary season which witnessed the ascendance of a rotating bunch of crazies: Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich and lastly Rick Santorum before the GOP just gave up and decided that the least controversial candidate might be the best option. I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it for myself. If the fad of Smell-o-Vision were alive and well today, one could have inhaled the desperation of the Republican party to find someone, anyone other than Mitt Romney to challenge sitting President Obama.
But now that Romney is poised to accept his party's reluctant nomination in Tampa, Florida this summer, one might have expected the establishment to fall in line. However a recent bumper crop of GOP hardliners is making it clear that Romney still has a lot of work to do before November, and some of the criticism is coming from the strangest places.
Fresh off a successful recall challenge last week, an emboldened Scott Walker, Wisconsin's union-hating governor told viewers of CBS's Face the Nation, “I don’t think we win if it’s just about a referendum on Barack Obama." Walker seems to be keenly aware that trouncing on a record that includes saving the auto and banking industries while taking out Osama bin Laden and moving GLBT rights forward, might fail be a totally effective strategy.
Not to be outdone, GOP it-boy Mitch Daniels, adored by such moderates as New York Times columnist David Brooks, shared his view of the Romney campaign with the Fox News Sunday audience. In an almost confrontational tone Daniels said, “The American people, I think, will rightly demand to know something more than he’s not President Obama…He better have an affirmative, constructive message, one of hope."
If we didn't know better, that sounds an awful lot like admiration of Obama's "Yes, We Can" slogan of 2008. You know, that election won against a timid, pandering former Maverick.
However, I was most incredulous to find some straight talk from former Florida governor Jeb Bush. The younger brother of arguably the most polarizing and least effective President in U.S. history addressed a group of journalists this past Monday morning in Manhattan. And it was at the Bloomberg View breakfast that Bush took the piss out of the Romney campaign's sole argument: that we can't afford four more years of Obama and he is the man to kick off America's immediate economic resurgence. Uttering two sentences that don't leave much room for interpretation, Bush stated, “I think we’re in a period here for the next year of pretty slow growth…I don’t see how we get out, notwithstanding who’s president.”
So although the deal is done in terms of the Republican party's 2012 chosen one, the jury appears to be out as to whether the establishment is going to come together behind Romney. Take this Associated Press headline from early May: "GOP Leaders Start to Rally Around Romney (Sort Of)." The article goes on to say "Republican party leaders are starting to rally around Mitt Romney, but it's not exactly a stampede of support for the expected GOP presidential nominee."
I find all of this back door mumbling highly encouraging. There's no arguing that the economy remains in dire straits and Obama's second term requires more of a "take no prisoners" approach than has been the norm of the last four years. However, more than a slice of conventional wisdom suggests that this is finally the year the Tea Party-hijacked GOP gets taken to the shed. If some of the biggest Republican names are unable to publicly condone Romney's candidacy, why should the mainstream voter be any different?