The case for ‘raging against the machine’

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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When Sarah Palin said voters should “rage against the machine” and vote for Newt Gingrich, she was tapping into something much larger than just the Florida primary vote.

Grassroots conservatives perceive that Mitt Romney is being coronated by the establishment — by the “ruling class.” This, of course, is a rejection of the spirit of 2010. And while Romney’s impressive juggernaut has led many Republicans to acquiesce and jump on the bandwagon — it has led other, less malleable types, to rebel.

One of the men raging against the machine is conservative blogger John Hawkins, who describes Romney as a “pampered, prissy, fake, spiteful son of a governor who’s being served the GOP nomination on a silver platter because he kissed the right establishment behinds…” (And those are some of his kinder remarks.)

While there are certainly legitimate ideological objections to Romney, the visceral disdain some feel for him clearly transcends ideology. There are many facets to this, but my guess is the conservative contrarian — the guy who is a little bit angry at government, cynical about the way the system is rigged, or simply rebellious by nature — is perhaps least likely to support Mitt Romney (and, as I wrote at Politico in 2007, Gingrich appeals to the “inner rebel”).

It’s important to note this isn’t a form of jealousy or envy over Romney’s wealth. As The American Spectator’s Matt Naugle recently told me, Romney’s “style couldn’t be more counter to the Tea Party ethos.” And NRO’s Jay Nordlinger concedes this point, writing: “Newt Gingrich will always seem more conservative than Romney, if for style and attitude alone, I think.”

It would be easy to dismiss such stylistic concerns as superficial. But style can matter. Ronald Reagan’s style, there is little doubt, helped him sell his conservative ideas. What is more, there is a sense among conservatives that what is needed is someone who will stand up to Washington. “I think movement conservatives can detect Romney is no rebel,” says Naugle, “and he certainly would not tell powerful elites to go to hell.”

Ultimately, the rejection of Mitt Romney by so many conservatives is quite predictable. Being a conservative is, for many, an inherently rebellious act. “He is a very shallow critic,” said G.K. Chesterton, “who cannot see an eternal rebel in the heart of the conservative.”

Matt K. Lewis