Romney boosters want a Republican campaign about nothing?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
Font Size:

Kudos to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” for a terrific discussion Thursday morning between William Bennett (who seems to support Romney) and Rudy Giulaini (who had harsh words for Romney and kind words for Gingrich).

When the topic of conversation turns to, whom should win the Republican nomination? — I think we can agree their opinions are more relevant than having Tina Brown and Arianna Huffington weigh in (which happens all too frequently).

During the discussion, Bennett made a point several times — which I found quite telling — inasmuch as it seems to be a key rationale for nominating Mitt Romney.

“What do we want the conversation to be about this summer and fall?,” Bennett asked rhetorically. “I’m worried the conversation will be about [Newt] … rather than about Barack Obama and his policies.”

This is an argument I’ve heard a lot, lately. And it strikes me as silly for a variety of reasons.

First, it is utterly naive to think Republicans can make this election solely a referendum on Barack Obama. Of course, they should attempt it, but the truth is that neither Obama (who might have a billion dollars to run in negative ads) nor the media, will ever let that happen.

Whomever Republicans nominate, we can be sure of one thing: That person will endure bitter attacks. If Newt Gingrich is the nominee, he will be cast as an insane and erratic cad. If Romney is the nominee, he will be cast as a rich flip-flopper who fired people for a living and belongs to a “weird” religion. I’m not sure which attack is better or worse for Republicans. In this economy, one might argue that the rich “Wall Street” attack on Romney would be more harmful in terms of reaching independent voters. But who knows?

There’s no avoiding it, though; the Republican nominee will either be cast as “nuts” (Newt) or as “Gordon Gekko” (Romney). The notion that nominating Mitt Romney means Republicans won’t be embarrassed or attacked is absurd. It’s also a form of appeasement.

Second, the notion that the way to win is to essentially avoid attention and attacks is not only naive — it is also nihilistic, negative and defensive.

It assumes that conservative ideas, in and of themselves, cannot compete and win in the political marketplace (or, at least, why chance it?). And so, this strategy implies the best we can hope for is to talk about Obama’s failed policies, because, God knows, our actual ideas can’t inspire or sway votes. (Seinfeld worked as a show about nothing, can it work as a political strategy?)

There’s another problem: Winning an election based on merely being less bad than the other guy would result in a hollow victory. Republicans will have no mandate to implement conservative governance if they avoid taking bold, proactive stands (for fear it might detract attention from a clean attack on Obama.)

Interestingly, Gingrich’s new ad promises “bold ideas” and “solutions.” Clearly, this is a contrast he is proud to exploit:

Matt K. Lewis