Let me begin by saying that I could, in the fall, vote for any one of the Republican candidates still in the race (excepting Ron Paul, of course). The prospect of a President Clinton or Obama for judicial appointments, the conduct of our foreign affairs, and the management of our economy does not exactly warm the cockles of my heart.
But what to do when I go to the polls tomorrow? If I were to be influenced by the robocalls I’ve received, I’d vote McCain (having received five on his behalf and two on Huckabee’s, with none for Romney, despite the fact that I live in a district represented in Congress and the state legislature by Romney-like Republicans). If I were influenced by the positions taken by the Georgia Republican establishment, I’d vote McCain, since both my Senators have endorsed him. (That, by the way, covers a bit of a spectrum in Georgia Republicanism, since they’re not exactly peas in a pod.) But, O.K., I’m not merely a product of my political environment, so I’ll actually have to think a little.
McCain’s pluses are obvious: he’s a stalwart in foreign and defense policy, relatively solid on life issues, and hasn’t been a friend of the GOP pork-lovers. He polls well among independents, which would probably help him against Clinton, though I have a hard time thinking that he’d win that vote against Obama. Indeed, at the moment, I think he’s the only electable Republican (of course, there has to be a general election campaign, and lots can happen). McCain’s negatives are also obvious: he has a mercurial temper, no administrative experience, and a penchant for tweaking his fellow Republicans. At his age, none of this will change. At his age, I have a hard time imagining him successfully contesting the elusive "youth vote" with, say, Obama.
Romney has solid administrative experience. He’s smart. I worry about his changes of heart, though I think that the very public markers he has laid down, especially on life issues, will be hard to walk away from. But I have a hard time imagining him beating either Clinton or Obama. If he were an electrifying campaigner, I wouldn’t have such a hard time, but he’s not.
And there’s more. I mentioned in another post the resistance I’ve gotten when I’ve talked about Romney with fellow evangelicals. It is very deep-seated. Some portion of the folks with whom I’ve spoken will surely sit on their hands rather than vote Romney in the fall. And no GOP candidate is going to win if a significant portion of the base sits on its hands.
If I just wanted to send a message to the man, I’d vote Huckabee, free from any expectation that he could actually win the nomination and confident that he’d have a harder time even than Romney winning the general election.
So my calculation at the moment is that it might be possible for the GOP to win with McCain, and that it’s pretty much impossible with the others. I know that I won’t get what I like from Clinton or Obama. I might get what I like, at least some of the time, from McCain.
But suppose I thought the GOP was very likely to lose in November, regardless of the nominee. What then? A McCain defeat would be a personal loss for him, but not for the self-appointed keepers of the party orthodoxy. They wouldn’t likely learn anything. A Romney defeat would compel more rethinking in the GOP, perhaps leading to a reconsideration of how conservative principles have to be in this new environment.
And, as an added bonus, it would compel rethinking among the evangelicals who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a Mormon candidate. With a "reward in heaven," they might be willing to pay the price of a new Democratic ascendancy on earth. But, then again, perhaps not. They might gain a new or renewed appreciation of the role of constitutionalism and a recognition that what we should look for in our political leaders is reasonable righteousness and good judgment, not theological orthodoxy.
Can you tell which way I’m leaning?