Saturday, June 18, 2011

Is Mitt Romney the New Nelson Rockefeller?

"Despite my affiliation with the Republican Party, I don't think of myself as highly partisan."
-- Mitt Romney in his book No Apology

And there it was again.

Front and center in last  night's CNN New Hampshire debate with Republican presidential candidates, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney twice -- not once but twice -- illustrated his problem as a presidential candidate and potential Republican president in the post-Reagan era.

Midway into the debate Romney answered a question on how to deal with the issue of raising the debt limit by saying that as president he would concentrate on "reining in the excesses of government." And when asked about picking a vice president Romney came back to the point; he would "restrain the growth of government."

It's not as if no one is noticing The Problem with Mitt Romney.

Even if everyone is polite enough not to just spit it out.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page was plain.

National Review, which had a different opinion four years ago, is now onto it.

The Club for Growth named it without putting a name to it.

Mark Levin is heartsick about finding himself onto it.

But onto what?

OK, it's time to lay the cards down.

Who, exactly, is the Lord Voldemort of the Republican Party?

What is the name in conservative circles that, in the style of the chief villain in the Harry Potter stories, might best be referred to as "You-Know-Who," "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" or "The Dark Lord"?

Can you whisper in print? Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.… That would be……

Nelson Rockefeller.

Say what? Speak up!!!! Did you say…

Nelson Rockefeller?????!!!!!!!!!!!!

Well, yes.

Nelson Rockefeller. That Nelson Rockefeller.

Grandson of the legendary billionaire oil man John D. Rockefeller and son of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. -- or "Junior" as he was frequently called. Nelson himself was one of the famed five "Rockefeller Brothers," John D. Jr.'s kids. Along with Nelson that included John D. III (father of today's Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, the West Virginia Democrat), Laurance, David, and Winthrop. (The remaining sibling of his generation was the frequently unmentioned sister Abby.) All devoted entire lives to philanthropic causes ranging from finance to architecture to the environment and more. While the others went about their varied interests it was Nelson who eagerly served Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower in various national security, foreign policy and domestic capacities before plunging into his own political career as the longtime Republican Governor of New York, two-time presidential candidate and appointed-Vice President of the United States for Gerald Ford.

But as the political world eventually understood, Nelson Rockefeller came to represent something much more than all of the above.

In the world of politics it was Nelson Rockefeller who had the misfortune to have all the political assets one could possibly imagine -- looks, charm, brains, energy and literally all the money he could use. Yet with all of this Rockefeller was totally unable -- if not stubbornly unwilling -- to understand the significance of the conservative revolution that was swirling around him as his own career unfolded. And in not understanding, much less not leading that conservative revolution Rockefeller not only failed spectacularly as a presidential candidate but made himself into a defiant symbol of resistance. He transformed himself into a man so stubbornly enamored of the liberal status quo and its supporting Establishment that his very name attached to that of his party became not simply a descriptive to conservatives but an epithet:

"The Rockefeller Republican."

It was -- and in some quarters remains to this day -- a short-hand, derisive description for Republicans now labeled as a "RINO" -- Republican In Name Only. The Rockefeller Republican became immutably identified as someone whose philosophical moorings and political instincts lay not in the Constitution but rather with the American progressive movement and the liberal Establishment that movement had become. Or, as Rockefeller's longtime intra-party rival Ronald Reagan once described the problem to Time magazine:
"I think the division of the Republican Party grew from pragmatism on the part of some, the Republicans who said, 'Look what the Democrats are doing and they're staying in power. The only way for us, if we want to have any impact at all, is somehow to copy them.' This was where the split began to grow, because there were other people saying, 'Wait a minute. There is great danger in following this path toward Government intervention.'"
 Reagan never left any doubt as to the fact that in his use of the word "some" he was decidedly including Nelson Rockefeller.

So as the 2012 Republican campaign to take the presidential chair begins, the obvious question that more and more conservatives are asking, however they phrase it, is this:

Is Mitt Romney the new Nelson Rockefeller?

The question takes on even more import in the wake of the New Hampshire GOP debate last night as Romney reinforced the doubts of Reaganites. 

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