The estimable George Will is almost ready to hoist the white flag on the 2012 presidential election. Neither Mitt Romney nor Rick Santorum, he writes in his column for this Sunday (an advance copy of which was obtained by Politico), “seems likely to be elected.” And while conservatives, Will advises, should vote for whichever is nominated, there may well “come a point when … conservatives turn their energies to a goal much more attainable than . . . electing Romney or Santorum president. It is the goal of retaining control of the House and winning control of the Senate. . . . [C]onservatives this year should have as their primary goal making sure Republicans wield all the gavels in Congress in 2013.”
After all, Will argues, if Republicans control Congress, “their committee majorities will serve as fine-mesh filters, removing President Obama’s initiatives from the stream of legislation. . . . [A] re-elected Obama — a lame duck at noon next Jan. 20 — would have a substantially reduced capacity to do harm.”
Rarely has an intelligent man been so wrong.
By every objective measure, the GOP has a reasonable chance to defeat President Obama—probably between 1-in-3 and 1-in-2. Given this opportunity, it would be crazy not to do everything one can to effectuate an outcome so devoutly to be desired. This doesn't mean falling in line early behind an inevitable nominee or suppressing criticism of the likely nominee. If some of us have tried to expand the presidential field, it's because we've been unconvinced that the current field offers us the best hope of victory. If some of us have resisted Romney inevitability, or an early Romney coronation, it's because we don't think that Romney's nomination—or at least his easy and early nomination—would increase Republican chances of winning the presidency. Others differ on these questions. But whatever differences conservatives have in March about candidates, strategy and tactics should not affect our determination in the fall, when there is a Republican nominee, to turn our energies to defeating President Obama.
Why? Obamacare. Iran. Debt. The military. The Court.
Obamacare can't be reversed from Congress. Iran can't be denied nuclear weapons by Congress. The debt crisis can't be fundamentally addressed by Congress. The military can't be protected from being hollowed out by Congress. Judges can't be appointed by Congress.
If you think the country's in decent shape, go for control of Congress. If you think it's the mid-1990s again, go for control of Congress. If you're fatalistic about American decline abroad and the end of limited, constitutional government at home, go for control of Congress. If current trends don't deeply alarm you, or if you think alarm is futile because the rot is too deep, the decline too long-standing, the problems too un-fixable—then, go for control of Congress. Try to limit the damage and slow the collapse.
But if you reject such fatalism as a failure of nerve, and such declinism as a failure of understanding—and conservatives should—then do everything you can to win the White House. Perhaps always, but certainly in 2012—there is no substitute for victory.