The basic tension of the Republican nominating contest is that it has had a very strong desire to oppose Mitt Romney, sitting alongside an almost comically weak slate of candidates who can fulfill that oppositional role. Now, with Rick Perry teetering and Michele Bachmann out, the opposition is down to two: Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, two washed-up pols who left office in disgrace or landslide defeat, have no appeal to non-rabid Republicans, and little money or organization.
Still, the sentiment against Romney is strong enough to keep one or both of them going for a while. The anti-Romney resistance is still breathing.
The resistance has a few components. At the periphery, you have Republicans who simply want to make Romney commit himself more deeply and irrevocably to the right-wing agenda. The Wall Street Journal editorial page has tiptoed the line all along, signaling ultimate support for Romney but always keeping the carrot dangling a few inches away. Today’s editorial notes with disappointment that his economic plan is less radical than his rivals’, and concludes that he “would benefit from a good, hard slog.” (Perhaps one involving a lot of santorum.)
Likewise, conservative activist Richard Viguerie complains, “Romney has just seemed to have gone out of his way to try to get this nomination without giving conservatives anything, and that’s troubling to a lot of conservatives.” The goal here is to, at the very least, push Romney further rightward.
Then you have the Republicans who don’t just want to make Romney sweat it out, but who want to actually take him down. A group of movement conservatives, including social conservative leaders like James Dobson, Don Wildmon, and Gary Bauer are meeting this weekend in Texas. Their goal is to sort out the problem of an anti-Romney resistance divided between Santorum and Gingrich and to coordinate support for one of them.
Meanwhile, you have Gingrich, almost mortally wounded by a pro-Romney advertising onslaught and spitting mad, threatening to wreak vengeance. “We’re going to be defining Romney out of the mainstream of the Republican party,” he said on MSNBC today. The interesting part is that by “we” he apparently meant himself and Santorum. That, I suppose, could be the answer to the anti-Romney coordination problem – Gingrich as the bad cop to Santorum’s good cop, with Gingrich staying in the race to pound away at his tormentor while Santorum tries to mop up the right-wing votes.
Not much of a plan, but it’s something.