I am about as excited by the Romney nomination as I am about going to the doctor for a digital rectal exam — necessary at a certain age, but awkward and uncomfortable nonetheless, with a lot of bending over and taking it whether or not you really want it.
One of the issues that I have dwelled on for some time is how so many of the people vouching for Romney's bona fides are the same people who vouched for Harriet Miers' nomination in 2005. As Ben Domenech noted in this morning's Transom, the Romney campaign has put Ed Gillespie in charge of finding a Vice President. That suggests to me Bob McDonnell remains the most likely choice — and it would be a fine, mature choice.
I like Ed Gillespie and think his Resurgent Republic effort has been quite good, but I am reminded of this story from the Harriet Miers days that Ben linked to in this morning's Transom.
At one point in the first of the two off-the-record sessions, according to several people in the room, White House adviser Ed Gillespie suggested that some of the unease about Miers "has a whiff of sexism and a whiff of elitism." Irate participants erupted and demanded that he take it back. Gillespie later said he did not mean to accuse anyone in the room but "was talking more broadly" about criticism of Miers.
I have many friends who were in that room that day and they have not forgotten that incident. The Harriet Miers comparison remains problematic for Romney with so many of his zealous defenders the same people who were so easily duped or so much into team sports that they rallied for someone who wasn't and now rally for someone who may or may not be. But just trust them this time!
Since Rick Santorum's withdrawal I have fielded numerous phone calls from conservative activists and leaders and I've been on a few conference calls with concerned leaders in the evangelical community wanting to discuss where money is best spent in 2012 to make sure the House stays secure and the Senate is taken.
The implication is two fold. First, many are not sure Romney can beat Barack Obama. I do have to say that the Romney machine's rapid response and outrage dialup over Hilary Rosen's comments on CNN last night give me hope they can play the game for the long haul. But the second implication is that many social conservatives and even some fiscal conservatives are already convinced that if Mitt Romney does beat Barack Obama there'll be a constant struggle against his administration and, therefore, there will be a critical need to get likeminded conservatives elected.
One person on a conference call yesterday referred back to George H. W. Bush and House Republicans in 1990. Bush decided to raise taxes and House conservatives openly ran against him. What an unusual campaign season we are headed in to.
Conservatives, evangelicals, etc. will support Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee. They'll take him over Barack Obama. But if this election is like 2004, where the candidates are focusing on turning out their bases, that might not be enough for Mitt Romney. He's going to have to do something to get them passionate about him.
I've run many a campaign and there are two constants to winning campaigns: (1) a candidate must give voters something to vote for, not just against, in order to generate passion; and (2) optimism wins. If the Romney campaign can deliver both, we might just have a winner on our hands. But his campaign needs to understand that conservative antipathy for Barack Obama is only the beginning of the process to earn their passionate support, not the end.