There was bad news on the doorstep for Mitt Romney Thursday. The headline at the top of page one in the Wall Street Journal shouted what Mitt Romney didn't want to hear: “Cain Vaults to Lead in Poll.” Once again, Yogi got it right: It ain’t over til it’s over.
Twenty-seven percent of GOP primary voters picked Herman Cain as their first choice for the Republican nomination while Mitt Romney held firm at 23 percent, according to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll.
We should have seen this coming.
Conservatives never took a liking to Mitt Romney. Rush Limbaugh says he’s not a “principled conservative.” A caller on his show said that Romney was “the white Obama.” Another was hoping Sarah Palin would re-consider and run against President Obama. Never mind all those polls that polls showed most Republicans didn’t want her to run. This kind of thing means nothing to the most passionate conservatives who won’t be happy until Ronald Reagan rises from the dead and hits the campaign trail. Anything is possible, but I’m guessing it’s not going to happen.
That’s where Herman Cain comes in. He’s no Reagan but to conservatives he comes a lot closer than anybody else, especially Mitt Romney.
Rush and his callers are right about one thing: Romney isn’t a principled conservative. In fact, you could make the case that he’s not a principled politician at all. He was pro-choice. Now he’s pro-life. He was for gay rights. Now he defends marriage between a man and a woman as “critical for the well-being of civilization.” He was for gun control. Now he’s a member of the National Rifle Association.
Yes, running in liberal Massachusetts is one thing; running in Republican primaries for president is something else altogether.
And the other night at the debate, Newt Gingrich asked Romney why his capital gains tax cuts only benefit Americans whose incomes are below $200,000. Romney replied that the “rich can take care of themselves,” and that he’s concerned about “the middle class.” Barack Obama couldn’t have said it any better.
Conservatives bristle when they hear liberal journalists say there’s a civil war raging in the Republican Party. But there is, or at least there’s a great big schism between the “realists” and the “purists.”
The realists say Romney is the only Republican who can beat Obama because he’s the one who can win the crucial independent vote.
The purists say McCain was a moderate, like Romney, and how did that turn out. Besides – and this is their go-to point – Reagan, a real conservative who never apologized for his conservatism, carried 49 states in one election, and that includes a lot of really, really blue states where liberals almost always win. There’s the proof, they say, that a real conservative can win. So why settle for Romney?
It’s a fair question, but what Rush and the other purists don’t get is that Ronald Reagan didn’t win simply because he was a real conservative. He won because he was Ronald Reagan. His personality, as much as his politics, won over blue collar Democrats and other lower-income voters who normally don’t vote for Republicans. And there’s no Ronald Reagan out there today. Not Palin. Not Bachmann. Not Perry. Not Santorum. But Herman Cain, the plain speaking guy who grew up poor and made something of himself because he believes in personal responsibility? Maybe.
Here’s a question for my purist friends: Name a second conservative American president in the last 80 years? You can’t. Reagan’s the only one.
If conservatives were so popular with the general electorate you’d think they’d have won a few more elections. Sure, all the Republican presidents since FDR were more conservative than their Democratic opponents, but that doesn’t make Eisenhower, Nixon, Bush the Elder or Bush the Younger real conservatives. And if the GOP had nominated more conservative candidates than the ones they did, the Democrat might very well have won.
The fat lady hasn’t sung yet. And that fat guy from New Jersey’s endorsement of Romney before the debate the other night may not put him over the top. Not a single real vote has been cast. It ain’t over til it’s over.
Bernie Goldberg is a journalist, author and Fox News analyst. He is the winner of 11Emmy Awards and has written five books on the media and American culture, including the No. 1 best-seller "Bias." His most recent book, "A Slobbering Love Affair," is about the mainstream media's fascination with Barack Obama. You can learn more about Bernie Goldberg by visiting his website at www.bernardgoldberg.com.