When campaigns gather information from strategists, one of the most annoying things I notice is the importance placed on poll-tested buzz words. In a Republican primary, where every candidate seeks to gain the vote of its base, the biggest buzz word is ‘conservative.’
During the 2010 elections, newly active conservatives (the tea party) worked to unseat Democrats who played the big buzz word but then voted for the wholesale take over of the health industry. They also worked to primary (negate incumbency) life-time anointed Republicans who hadn’t really been scrutinized in the past.
The actions of the tea party showed they didn’t need to be told who is more conservative, they understood instinctively.
One of my favorite quotes from Margaret Thatcher is, “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” I have used that quote in the past referring to conservative candidates. If you have to tell people you are a conservative, you aren’t.
But Mitt Romney really stepped in it at CPAC. I’ve read that he was supposed to say he was a conservative governor, and that he ad-libbed the word ‘severely.’ That may or not be true, but to use both words suggests neither have meaning.
The word ‘severe’ suggests that Mitt Romney was a strict conservative, a disciplined conservative, a rigorous indefatigable conservative, an exact or scrupulous conservative, a rigid or even a harsh conservative. He trumps Barry Goldwater.
But admitting in 2002 that he is a moderate, Romney’s actions as Governor support his assertion as a candidate.
When someone changes their entire viewpoint, there is usually some defining moment in their lives that causes them to do a complete 180. Near-death experiences and prison often turn people who have previously been on a wayward path to come to God.
But the defining moment in Mitt Romney’s life seems to be that he started running for President. Since he defends the most progressive thing he has ever done in Massachusetts, Romneycare, there is no way that severe conservatism could actually be applied.
I’m pretty conservative. I’m a student of conservatism. I have many friends who are conservative. Yet, I cannot think of one whom I would describe as severely conservative. Not one.
Since it’s possible Romney ad-libbed the comment, I have to look at why. It could be that looking out at the room of people at CPAC, he was getting the hint that they didn’t believe him, therefore, he added ‘severe.’ Perhaps he realized that virtually nobody would vote for him at CPAC unless they viewed him as the most conservative candidate, and with Santorum and Gingrich as his competition, he needed to contrast himself.
So Romney’s effort to convince conservatives that he is conservative, has now changed into trying to persuade us that he is the most conservative of the lot.
I think that most conservatives are not convinced, and those who are, are admitting that the word conservative has little meaning.