When Charles Colson died last weekend, he was best known as the Watergate felon turned prison minister. But Colson, a constant presence in Christian Right circles for over two decades, had perhaps his greatest impact in another sphere of American life: expanding evangelical-Catholic cooperation in the fight against legalized abortion into a broader political alliance. For signs of his success, look at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ latest manifesto, published just last month.
Of all the issues on which Mitt Romney will be tempted to execute an “Etch-a-Sketch” moment as he heads into the general election, immigration is the most pressing. Remember, on immigration Romney didn’t just rely on his super PAC to slur his opponents; he identified himself robustly with the nativist strain in the GOP. This worked out fine in the primaries: It helped him snuff the existential threat of Rick Perry’s candidacy, and provided additional fodder for his team’s crucial attack on Newt Gingrich after the South Carolina primary.
When Dallas First Baptist Church pastor Robert Jeffress endorsed Mitt Romney this week, it raised some eyebrows. Jeffress, after all, was the evangelical leader who roiled last year’s Value Voters Summit by casually telling reporters that Mitt Romney was “not a Christian,” but instead a member of the Mormon “cult.” His endorsement should serve as a warning to any Democrats who expect that evangelical distaste for Mormonism will cost Mitt Romney a significant number of votes.
In his TNR column last week, my esteemed colleague and mentor William Galston expressed one of the more regularly repeated convictions about presidential politics: Reelection campaigns are a referendum on the incumbent. As he wrote: One of the best established findings of contemporary political science is that in presidential contests involving an incumbent, the incumbent’s record is central to the public’s judgment.
Rick Santorum’s withdrawal from the Republican presidential race earlier this week marked the end of a long, strange trip for the former Pennsylvania senator, who made himself the political vehicle for Christian Right resistance to Mitt Romney. But the lesson of Santorum’s inevitable defeat isn’t that he was too socially extreme. Ironically, it was his record of loyal support for the compassionate conservative agenda of George W. Bush that did Santorum in, not his 1950s-era values.
The end is near for Rick Santorum. That doesn’t mean, though, that it’s time for Mitt Romney to start celebrating. Yes, Romney won Wisconsin Tuesday night, and has a near-lock on the eventual nomination. But claims that he is beginning to seal the deal with party conservatives are premature. A look at Wisconsin exit polls shows that he is still struggling among right-wing voters. That has clear implications for the type of general election campaign Romney can run—and the kind of vice-presidential candidate he’ll eventually have to pick. What did we learn from the Wisconsin primary?
Last week was a pretty good one for Mitt Romney. He moved ahead of Rick Santorum in the polls in Wisconsin. His lead in national polls of Republicans increased as well. And he continued to get prominent endorsements from star conservatives like Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan, indicating a party moving in his direction. But despite all this encouraging news, there was a cloud on Romney’s horizon: his terrible approval ratings. How terrible?
There are three ways to look at the GOP nominating contest now that Mitt Romney has won Illinois. The first is summarized by Alex Massie in a headline earlier today: “Illinois Votes; Mitt Romney Wins; Race Still Over.” A second is to insist that, while Romney is on track to win the nomination, it’s unwise to assume anything until he has mathematically won a majority of delegates.
As Mitt Romney struggles, yet again, to nail down the Republican presidential nomination, a question keeps presenting itself: Is Romney’s team incompetent?