15 January 2012
The conservative conclave's toothless endorsement
It took three ballots before the social-conservative magnates gathered in Texas this weekend settled upon Rick Santorum as their preference for the Republican presidential nomination. It's a milestone of interdenominational harmony, I suppose, for a group most likely dominated by evangelicals to throw their influence behind a Catholic, but how influential are they, really? The Washington Post notes that the conclave has not asked, and apparently will not ask Gingrich and Perry to step aside. It's unclear whether even those who voted for the other men this weekend will renounce them formally. Whether their flocks will follow their shepherds is even more questionable. But if the leaders can disavow any intention to drive any candidate out of the race, they clearly expect their congregations to do that for them in their capacity as voters. If they're not going to put any actual pressure on Perry and Gingrich this weekend's spectacle was practically meaningless, but it's unclear what pressure they could legitimately press upon those two apart from a promise of humiliation at the polls. But Gingrich is probably shameless in that respect, while Perry may still imagine himself invincible until Romney has a majority of delegates. The only real result of the conclave is that now the social conservatives can blame Gingrich and Perry, not to mention Paul and Huntsman, rather than themselves if Romney is nominated. If the race were reduced to Romney and Santorum, which it won't be while Paul lives, Romney's victory would be damning evidence that the conclaves' "social" conservatism is not conservatism as far as the Republican party, if not the larger "conservative" movement, is concerned, just as anyone's conservatism ceases to be that, in the eyes of the Republican establishment, if he questions Romney's conduct of his businesses. This is the state of movement madness in January 2012: conservatives are desperate to stop Romney but are told that their sharpest criticisms of him -- and let's not even start on the subject of religion this post -- are not conservative. There is a conservatism in America that sees Mitt Romney as its ideal candidate. Is that the conservatism of every conservative? If the usual lesser-evil impulses prevail, conservatives will have no choice but to let Republicans once more tell them what their movement stands for. In effect, there won't be a conservative movement at all -- just a self-conscious, self-righteous, self-pitying and self-defeating constituency of the Republican party.