Hey Hugh Hewitt, Here’s How to Defend Romney

October 31st, 2011 at 9:16 am David Frum | 23 Comments |

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Hugh Hewitt this morning scolds George F. Will for criticizing Mitt Romney’s changes of mind:

“Republicans may have found their Michael Dukakis,” Will concluded about Romney, and that will leave a mark.

Commentators other than Will among the most influential voices on the right — Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin to name two who matter, a lot — had already thrown some heavy policy critiques at Romney


Knocking Romney for Massachusetts’ mandate has become as popular as blasting Perry for his debate performances or hammering Cain for campaign inexperience and gaffes.

All of the attacks on all of the candidates take a toll. But some attacks productively push a candidate on policy. Attacks on character, as opposed to positions or ineptitude are a different category of poison-tipped arrow.

The most memorable commentary of this primary season will not blow away and vanish with the winter. It will be back in the spring, summer and fall, recycled by Team Obama and relayed by the Obama-dependent in the mainstream media.

Hewitt is a long-time exponent of the view that political journalism should act as a form of partisan PR. It’s not surprising then that he would upbraid Will for speaking his mind rather than repeating Hewitt’s preferred line-of-the day.

But if PR is what is wanted, Hewitt does a bad job of it himself.

Complaining that a particular criticism of Romney “will help Obama” tacitly concedes the weight of the criticism.

You want to defend Romney? Fine. Defend him.


1) It’s not Romney who is the flip-flopper. It’s the conservative movement. It was only three years ago that Jim DeMint was praising the Massachusetts healthcare plan. Post-2009, conservatives have flip-flopped on individual mandates, they have flip-flopped on monetary policy, in these cases they have adopted ever more extreme positions.

Yes Romney has had to shape-shift to keep pace, and that’s unfortunate. But don’t blame him – blame them.

2) What you want from politicians is not inner agreement, but effective outward action.

The conservative world does itself a great disservice when it rallies to candidates who most noisily mirror its own ideological impulses. Politics is a difficult job, it requires particular skills, and candidates who lack those skills won’t do the job. In the unimaginable contingency whereby a Herman Cain became president, you would not see a conservative presidency – you’d see a trainwreck of a presidency.

3) Politicians change their minds all the time. Look at Rick Perry for example. Five years ago, he was to the left of Larry Summers, directly investing state government funds in preferred industries. Now suddenly he’s Mr Free Market. George HW Bush and Ronald Reagan changed their minds on abortion. The only people who never change their minds are fanatics – the Ron Pauls – who start wrong and stay wrong.

But of course those are arguments. And one of the negative consequences of a career as a radio monologist is that your ability to make arguments atrophies, even assuming you ever possessed such ability in the first place.

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23 Comments so far ↓

  • ottovbvs

    I think Hewitt is a conservative who has the dubious distinction of being fired from the Reagan library for being an extremist partisan conservative. Need one say more.

  • Watusie

    The “best defense” of Romney would be to say “I believe he would be a good president in these troubled times for the following reasons:….”.

    Unfortunately, it is difficult to make this case given that Romney has absolutely no principles what so ever, other than his conviction that he’d like to be president. How do you argue he’d be good at the job when you’ve got no idea what his policy positions might be from day to day?

    And then something like this from the archives of the Boston Globe pops up, rather suggesting that he is in fact not really the right man for the times:

    He is a seriously horrible candidate. And yet, he towers over the rest of the Republican field!

  • camus32

    Ron Paul is not a fanatic. He may be wrong about some things (e.g. the gold standard), and he may be no more ready to run the country than Cain, but he is a freedom-lover and holds many reasonable and well-throught-through positions (e.g. on foreign policly and decriminalizatin of drugs & prostitution, etc.). David (who by the way, I have great respect and even affection for) on the other hand appears to me to remain a Republican mainly (and unconsciously?) because that he is terrified at the prospect of the number one US foreign objective being something other than kissing Israel’s butt. Is that not a form of fanaticism? He really preferred Bush over Gore and Kerry?

    • jamesj

      Ron Paul has his charms… mainly in the fact that he really does hold internally consistent views and he doesn’t pander to voter ignorance like most other politicians. When you see him taking unpopular positions on the debate stage, you can’t help but respect him in comparison to the blatant undignified pandering that passes for politics these days.

      But, I regard several of his economic policy positions as unsupported by mainstream economics and downright dangerous. As a result, my conservative philosophy prevents me from ever voting for the man. Grand experiments have a tendency to produce unintended consequences. Slow and steady improvement wins the race over the long haul.

  • balconesfault

    Hewitt is a long-time exponent of the view that political journalism should act as a form of partisan PR.

    Great – a man who would love to have Pravda, as long as Pravda supported his side.

  • willard landreth

    Frum once again arguing unmitigated BS

    These may be the weakest arguments yet.

    1 ) “It’s not Romney who is the flip-flopper. It’s the conservative movement. It was only three years ago that Jim DeMint was praising the Massachusetts healthcare plan. Post-2009, conservatives have flip-flopped on individual mandates, they have flip-flopped on monetary policy, in these cases they have adopted ever more extreme positions.”

    “3) Politicians change their minds all the time.” The question isn’t changing one’s mind, it’s presenting a logical argument as to why? Where are those logical arguments from Mitt? Clearly it’s just olitical expediency.

    Why not counsel Mitt to make a stand on principals he believes in? Is there anything on which he hasn’t flipped or flopped? Problem for Mitt is nobody trusts him on anything. He passion for election over rides everything he says.

    The republican party has no soul, and Frum and his cohorts haven’t done much to clear the air. At this point the Frum wing of the GOP will have to accept the fact that the Koch brother and the Tea Party are in control. Their best alternative is to let this form of extremism play itself out; and then reorganize. In the meantime develop some heart and compassion and figure out a way to represent more constituencies than the 1%.

    • Graychin

      [i]“Yes Romney has had to shape-shift to keep pace, and that’s unfortunate. But don’t blame him – blame them.”
      So the flip-flopping isn’t Romney’s fault? Because they MADE him do it? That’s an even weaker defense than Hewitt offers. :D

      Ironically, Romney probably could have coasted to the 2012 nomination by remaining in the shape that he shifted to when running for governor in Massachusetts, better positioning himself for the general election. Which Republican would have defeated him? With Cain’s 15 minutes having expired as of this morning, Romney is the last man standing.

      But after waffling on more issues than the Waffle House, Romney has rendered himself unacceptable to everyone except congenital tribal Republicans (like those at FrumForum) and confirmed opponents of the Hated Kenyan. Romney has shown himself to have no core beliefs at all. Independents won’t trust him, and neither will conservatives. The “enthusiasm gap” in the general election will be immense.

      Even if someone can believe in Romney’s numerous conversions on the road to the White House, it’s hard to ignore his continuing to take numerous contradictory positions on almost every issue, almost every day.

      Moral : stick to your principles – if you have any. Pandering will only wind up biting you in the butt. People will start to believe that you’re an empty suit. Smart, but ultimately empty.

      Next November, Romney’s only selling point will be “I’m not Obama.” That isn’t going to be good enough. Not even close.

      • think4yourself

        Graychin, you’re first part was funny (they made him do it), but I don’t think Romney could win the party with his MA positions.

        As an example Hillary tried that in the last election, owning the centrist position, but Obama beat her on the left (even though he has governed as a centrist). And the Dems are certainly more centrist than today’s GOP primary voters. A Romney who is either pro-choice or modestly pro-life, who is the father of today’s healthcare could not win the GOP nomination, no matter how much money he had. Either one of the current crop of GOP candidates would gain traction or someone like Christie or Jeb Bush would have been recruited in (as it was Perry got in because of Romney’s percieved weaknesses).

        • Graychin

          Could Romney have won the nomination in the Halloween costume of a moderate Massachusetts governor? We’ll never know.

          It does seem likely that although Christie and Jeb seem attractive from a distance, Republican primary voters wouldn’t give them a second date. They would go the way of Bachmann and Perry. And as of today, Cain.

          Either Perry shapes up (and that doesn’t seem likely), or it’s Romney by default.

  • jamesj

    “It’s not Romney who is the flip-flopper. It’s the conservative movement.” Obvious to all informed observers with a long term memory. But Romney is allowing his stances to blow in the wind of voter ignorance.

    “What you want from politicians is not inner agreement, but effective outward action.” Couldn’t agree more. Flip-flopping is awesome if you are admitting a past mistake and explaining why your new position makes more sense.

    Frum, if your goal is to slowly and steadily convince me that Romney isn’t the worst, well you are doing as well of a job as you could hope for. I agree with you that the poor guy is operating in an environment that is absolutely out of control and all he can do is pander if we wants to remain in the game. But the problem is, I can’t vote for someone who panders to these maniacs. Even the pandering during the primary, where you are required to pander, is leaving a terrible impression. It really seems like he has few convictions or standards. I don’t think the problem is even pandering in general. All politicians do that to some degree. The problem is that pandering is being done to THE WORST IDEAS IN THE COUNTRY.

    I know this is a bit unfair, but whenever I see a Tea Partier or an extremist business colleague talking about how the free market should sort everything out and the problem over the last decade was that America didn’t have free enough markets or low enough taxes, I feel as though they are saying “I want to destroy the infrastructure of this god damn country and turn it into rubble”. They talk about tort reform as if it is an actual viable solution to our entire healthcare problem. They talk about a flat tax as if it wouldn’t be a risky new tax shift to the middle class. They talk about Fanny and Freddie as if they were the main cause of the housing bubble. And I’m watching Romney kiss the rings on their hands. He wants their votes. It is really degrading for him and demoralizing for me. If a guy like me sees it this way, I can’t imagine how extreme it must seem to a left wing voter.

  • Houndentenor

    It shouldn’t be a crime for a politician to change his mind on an important issue based on new information or circumstances. But primary voters are right to be concerned that Romney seems to have said whatever he thought voters wanted to hear in Massachusetts and now saying the opposite because he knows those positions are unpopular with the GOP base. It’s why I think there’s always a “Not Romney” candidate” tied with him in the polls.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    for heaven’s sake, just last week Romney flip flopped all over the place in Ohio with regards to the referendum on union rights (since it looked like it would lose Romney pleaded ignorance of it, thus infuriating Republicans for not wholeheartedly endorsing it, when the backfire got too big, he then suddenly “saw the light”)

  • MattP

    To someone who thinks that the recipe for a great president is to simply elect some sort of technocratic center-right policy operator, then Romney is perfectly acceptable – and his apparent lack of a principled, ideological core is even considered a net plus. However, most normal people in the real world don’t pick their candidates for president the way that David Frum does.

  • mannie

    You cant defend Mitt Romney because he is indefencible. He has no spine and no convictions. His lack of spine was evident last month where Perry’s precher friend called Romney a cult member, and Romney, rather then firing back, sucked it up. And a lack of conviction is evidenced by his disavoual of Romneycare, which is both popular, succesful and affordable back in Mass. But rather than tout that as an example of his bright ideas, he prefers to cross himself up and adopt the politically correct party line. I cant stand the guy, and why anyone would drop a perfectly fine Barack Obama for a dud like Mitt Rimney is beyond me.

  • overshoot

    Oh, for crying out loud. Is it really so hard to simply say that the Republican base has gone so far that in order to get the nomination a politician has to adopt positions that are going to torpedo any chance of winning the general election? Is it really that hard?

    Well, maybe a video will get the point across, today and today only:


  • Rick123

    Vote Republican…Vote Obama.

    Strong on national defense. Check.
    Willing to take on entitlement programs. Check.
    Reformed health care without government takeover. Check.
    Cut taxes. Check.

  • ratgov

    Doesn’t anyone remember the last election cycle? Hugh Hewitt is on Romney’s payroll. He wrote, “A Mormon in the White House?: 10 Things Every American Should Know about Mitt Romney” which he has paid to write by Romney. Why would anyone listen to anything he has to say about Romney?

  • baw1064

    Frum raises some pretty reasonable arguments. But the problem is that the Base wants a fanatic who never changes their mind–unless it is to adopt a more extreme position. And being a True Believer trumps actual skills or qualifications. We saw that in the VP choice last time around–and especially in the Base’s reaction to same.

    Hewitt is a long-time exponent of the view that political journalism should act as a form of partisan PR. I was going to call him a tool; Frum’s description is admittedly a classier and more euphemistic way of putting it.

    I would actually like Romney if he just ran on his record as governor and promised to do pretty much the same thing at the national level. But, he’d never get the nomination by doing that.

  • Chuckosan

    “Yes Romney has had to shape-shift to keep pace, and that’s unfortunate. But don’t blame him – blame them.”

    So, your defense of Romney is that he’s following from behind?

    How about Romney display some leadership. Nah! That would require him to actually take a position on something.

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