In a speech draped with olive branches and punctuated by only a smattering of boos, the prohibitive favorite to win the Republican nomination told the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee that:
"We have had a few disagreements, and none of us will pretend that we won't continue to have a few. But even in disagreement, especially in disagreement, I will seek the counsel of my fellow conservatives. If I am convinced my judgment is in error, I will correct it. And if I stand by my position, even after benefit of your counsel, I hope you will not lose sight of the far more numerous occasions when we are in complete accord."Jennifer Rubin, speaking for a goodly number of conservatives at Commentary.com, wrote that the speech was just what the doctor ordered:
"That take comes from the most loyal Romney supporters to a wide array of conservative voices. The 'We'll take Hillary' view is clearly out of fashion. One speech a reconciliation does not make, but realistically there is only one way forward now for former McCain critics: Take credit and make the most of it."I'm not sure about the taking credit part because in the end conservatives not in the thrall of cannibals like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, James Dobson and other Malkintents knew that their failure to acknowledge McCain's viability -- and his failure to reciprocate -- would mean likely defeat for the Republican Party in November.
The chances of McCain going down the tubes is still pretty good regardless of whether he tacks further to the right. Besides which, the conservatives' core issues aren't likely to play well enough this time around to make a difference. These issues include abortion, punitive action against illegal immigrants and standing with President Bush on the Iraq war.
All that so noted, there is some unfinished business for the CPAC crowd:
* How could a group that prides itself on ideological purity have bought so totally into Mitt Romney's hollow declarations that he was one of them?
It was not just a matter of Romney not being McCain. The conservatives' seduction as a result of the former Massachusetts governor's charm offensive will go down as one of the biggest con jobs in political history.
* What to do with those conservative cannibals?
Limbaugh and Company will always have their followers, but their willfully destructive attacks against McCain reflect so poorly on the CPAC crowd and conservatives in general that it is beyond time for right-minded conservatives to begin disinviting more than Ann Coulter from their party.
I don't expect these issues to be addressed and have no stake in that happening beyond my belief that we need two vibrant political parties. But sweeping them under the rug, which is what will happen, will just leave big lumps that conservatives will keep tripping over.
I'll leave the second to last word to Ed Morrissey, my hands down favorite conservative blogger, who wrote:
"As I believe Georges Clemenceau once said, in order to get a seat at the feast, one has to help set the table. This is the choice facing conservatives. Either we help set the table and join in public policy and use our influence to help shape a Republican administration, or we abandon McCain and get four or eight years of statist policy that could take a generation to undo. Even worse, the conservatives might watch McCain get elected without their assistance -- and watch themselves get marginalized as a movement for a very, very long time.
"Most of the people here at CPAC understand that choice very well. A few still do not. Fortunately -- and this is Mitt Romney's generous gift to the Republicans -- the factional war has ended, and we can hope that the long run-up to the convention will give an opportunity for the visceral reactions to McCain's nomination to fade. McCain can assist that by fulfilling his promise yesterday to bring more conservatives onto his campaign for counsel."
The last word is a warning. If there is a common denominator in this extraordinary election year, it is that voters are thirsty for change. That makes Romney's attack on the Democratic competition in his CPAC swan song all the more reprehensible:
"If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror."Romney, of course, was playing to the basest part of the conservative base. That would be the people who got conservatives in big trouble in the first place.
Photograph by Evan Vucci/The Associated Press