A lot of liberal news sources and bloggers (Andy Sullivan, that's you) have been publishing a seemingly endless torrent of anti-Romney articles and posts in the last several months. Interestingly, many of them are trying to sell the idea that Romney isn't all that conservative and is a flip-flopper on social issues. They're trying so hard to convince conservatives that he's not their man, yet many of them aren't rooting for a Republican White House in 2008. What's the motivation?
It occurred to me why they're fighting so hard against Romney: Democrats, regardless of who they nominate, can't go head-to-head with Mitt and win. Here's the angles that I see on this one.
#1 – McCain or Guiliani would be easier opponents. McCain is very moderate, and Guiliani is pretty liberal by Republican standards. Either of these candidates could drive away conservatives to third parties, a crucial tactic in close states. If Hillary Clinton cinches the Democratic nomination with her new-found moderate packaging, the candidates would be so much alike that voters in the middle could swing either way. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has very clearly defined himself as a fiscal conservative and has been growing into a social conservative these last few years. He's well-liked within his own party whereas McCain is a loose cannon and Guiliani is hardly accepted within the party.
#2 – Romney as president would strengthen the Republican Party. Given Romney's track record on fiscal issues, he'd be likely to reign in the budget and get us back to surpluses by the end of his first term. This would be a major win with most Americans, especially the fiscal conservatives that have been given back seat status during Bush's tenure. With a win like that, he could re-establish the Republicans as the small government party from 1994, and most Americans (to the chagrin of the big government types) are fans of fewer feds.
#3 – Romney's squeaky clean personal life could clear the air. Republicans are in a funk after so many of their party had been caught red-handed in scandal after scandal. Romney's biggest skeleton is saying the words "hell" and "damn" when someone cheesed him off during the Olympics. He's also the only major Republican contender who's not been divorced. (As so many have noted, funny that it would be a Mormon given the legacy of polygamy.)
Americans already voted to "throw the rascals out" this year, and Mitt could very well sell himself as a morally upright and fiscally capable outsider. Hillary can't do that, Obama probably isn't going to run, and the rest of the names being floated are either also-rans or unknowns. Why else would there be desperate stabs from the left that Romney isn't a "true conservative"? Why else would so many liberal bloggers spend all of their time spreading FUD about Mormonism? It's desperation because they know Hillary can't take him and yet she's determined to get that nomination.
With such a vested interest in trying to knock Romney out of the running, you can bet the attackers are going to try and find anything they can to make him look bad. The attacks on Mormons will escalate as well (as if Andy Sullivan's pictures of Mormons wearing garments wasn't tasteless enough), making John F. Kennedy's anti-Catholic hecklers look relatively tame. It's going to get very, very ugly, and there's a good possibility that the underhanded and low-brow tactics will backfire.
Watch your back, Hillary. That negative campaigning on your behalf will bring you down.