Friday, February 8, 2008

Romney the next Reagan?

Bryan at Hot Air is not ready to say that yet, but he's making a lot of suggestions that could make Romney the next leader of the conservative movement.

In dropping out of the GOP race Thursday, Mitt Romney showed a great deal of class and a flair for the dramatic. But what’s next? In particular, if he really does see 2008 as 1976, what does he have to do to convince conservatives that he could be the next Reagan?

Mitt Romney is not the next Ronald Reagan, at least not yet. That’s not a personal criticism of him, it’s just a reflection of the fact that Reagan spent a good 30 years prior to 1976 studying and speaking out on the Communist threat, he spent two terms as the governor of the country’s most populous state, and built and led a movement that was always larger than himself. Reagan was always about the battle of ideas and moving the country away from big government and toward smaller government. In a serious way, Reagan led an ideological war against Communism that culminated the year after he left office, when the Berlin Wall came down. There is no analogous political figure on the scene today, who has spent decades studying the threat we face now from al Qaeda and its ideological allies. There just isn’t. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that there is and no one at this point has earned Reagan’s mantle.

. . .

The good news for him is that he has a few years in which the conservative mantle is up for grabs. No one owns it or has earned it. It could be his if he chooses to earn it. Reagan changed his positions on some issues over time, so it’s not the case that an honest change of mind is permanent political poison. It’s not. But Romney has to prove that where he is now is where he will always be and that he’s a studied and worthy leader.

Depending on the outcome this fall, Romney either has 4 or 8 years to prove that he is in his ideological home for good. To do that, we’ll need to hear from him through the years. Reagan didn’t go away after 1976. He stayed active and kept ready for 1980.

Romney’s personal wealth gives him an advantage over a Mike Huckabee when it comes to establishing himself as a conservative center of gravity. He can and probably will hold summits with fellow conservatives, maybe his own version of Restoration Weekend or even a kind of CPAC, but he should also stay active in events and groups like that that already exist. Build your own but not at their expense to expand the conservative movement’s arsenal rather than create factions and fissures. He can use his wealth to engage in entrepreneurial conservatism, by building or publicly supporting new media alternatives to the Soros-backed MoveOn, Media Matters and the like. And he can also continue to generate more money for the conservative cause through private enterprise and personal persuasion.

But over and above that, he has to show conservatives that he’s engaged in the battle of ideas personally and not just throwing money at them. He has to study up, in a serious and patient way, on the jihadist threat, the broader security threat environment including the role that border insecurity plays not only in terrorism but in violent crime, drug and human trafficking and identity theft. And he has to show that his social conservatism wasn’t forged out of convenience.

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