Republican moneymen and pundits are starting to flock to the Mitt Romney banner, sending forth the word that it is time to bow to the inevitable. But the Republican voters just do not like Mitt Romney.
The depth the of the base's resistance to falling in behind next-in-line Romney has continuously shocked observers, resulting first in the rise of Donald Trump, then Michele Bachmann, then Rick Perry. Now Perry is swooning, and his support has gone to ... Herman Cain!
In the latest Washington Post poll, Perry's support has halved over the last month, but Romney remains stuck at 25 percent. Cain has risen to 16 percent. The new CBS poll has Cain tied, at 17 percent, for first place with Romney. PPP polled Republicans in North Carolina, Nebraska, and West Virginia, and found Cain leading in all three states.
I don't think Cain can win the nomination, and I'm not sure he really wants it (as opposed to a nice Fox News gig.) Saying you might vote for Herman Cain for president — of the United States, not of a pizza chain — can only be read as a cry of protest.
I don't see how Republicans could be making this any more plain. They do not want to nominate Mitt Romney.
His problem is summed up neatly by today's The Wall Street Journal editorial:
The main question about Mr. Romney is whether his political character matches the country's huge current challenges. The former Bain Capital CEO is above all a technocrat, a man who believes in expertise as the highest political virtue. The details of his RomneyCare program in Massachusetts were misguided enough, but the larger flaw it revealed is Mr. Romney's faith that he can solve any problem, and split any difference, if he can only get the smartest people in the room. ...
Republicans need a nominee who can make the opposing case on practical and moral grounds, not shrink from it out of guilt or excess political caution.
This encapsulates the main difference between the two parties. I've made this point many times before, but I think it's pretty fundamental. The conservative movement is committed to a series of strong philosophical principles about government. They believe in a smaller government that takes less from the rich on moral grounds, as the Journal says. The Democratic Party does not have the same kind of deeper philosophical commitment, and is much more comfortable with technocracy.
Romney's technocratic skills are not only not a plus for him. For many conservatives, they are something close to a disqualification. On many of the largest public issues, the technocratic consensus binds the center-right with the center-left and excludes the Republican position. Technocrats generally agree that we should increase short-term deficits while simultaneously decreasing long-term deficits through a combination of reducing tax expenditures and entitlement spending. There's a somewhat less strong technocratic consensus that we should find a way to put a price on carbon emissions. These are all policies supported by the Obama administration and fiercely opposed by the GOP because they do violence to conservative anti-government principles.
Conservatives don't want a president who's open to different means of achieving ends (ending the recession, controlling health care costs.) They want somebody who's set in stone on using the right means — less government.
Romney, because of the bizarre succession of real and potential foes removing themselves from consideration, may win the nomination by default. But the mismatch between him and the party he wants to lead is not going away.