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I don't believe anything is inevitable except the return of Jesus. So when people start saying that Mitt Romney is an inevitable lock for the Republican nomination, I regard that about as highly as I do when people tell me some football team is a lock for a national championship. Just like sports, politics is an unpredictable world. Now, don't get me wrong. I don't mind predictions. I don't mind people prognosticating or attempting to guess what will happen. It makes things interesting, leads to good discussions and so forth. But nobody knows. Karl Rove doesn't know. Dick Morris doesn't know. James Carville doesn't know - shoot, he predicted that the Democrats were set for something like a 40 year dominance of Washington when Obama was elected. He missed it by 38 years.
So I have no problems saying that Mitt Romney had a great night, all things considered, in Iowa. I have no problem saying that he is far and away the front runner right now and is polling well. But that isn't to say it's going to stay that way. I don't know if it will. It's a fluid race and will remain that way for a while. If you have a couple of the more conservative candidates jump from the race, and those conservative voters coalesce behind an anti-Romney, this race is very much still a competition - especially heading into some of the southern primaries.
But let's indulge the "inevitable" folks for a second. Let's acknowledge that Mitt's ability to do so well in Iowa despite having not spent much time or effort in the state comparatively is a sign that Republicans are going to go with him as the safest option in 2012. Let's say all this in Iowa signifies he is on course for the Republican nomination. What then?
For me, I won't be happy he is the one. He was never my first choice and I feel like there were a lot better candidates out there - some didn't run, some did. I'll be disappointed because I will have wished that a more conservative candidate would have emerged. But that disappointment in his less conservative stature compared to his fellow Republicans will quickly be dwarfed by his more conservative stature compared to the current president.
I'm sensing this frustration that is mounting amongst some conservatives - and it's manifesting itself in a few different ways - about what they see as the inevitability of a Mitt candidacy. Now, what's interesting to me about that is that back in 2008 some of these same folks - not all, of course, but some - were on board with Mitt. They thought Huckabee was not fiscally conservative, they thought McCain was a RINO, and Mitt was the best option. So they backed him. But now that he's not the best option out there, they are getting upset that they may be forced to pick whether to back him again, or accept the a second Obama term.
Then there are more of the purists out there who have several different "deal breaker" issues that if a candidate isn't perfect on each of them, they get upset. I've got one deal breaker: you've got to take a stand on the sanctity of human life. You have to be right on that issue. But there are others that have that as a deal breaker, and then about 10 others. And they put themselves into this corner, where nobody is going to please them perfectly and then they're going to be upset when the nominee eventually is chosen.
I have my wish list. Everyone does. I know the list of credentials that I want a candidate to have. And that's why when I look at that list and compare it to these Republican options, I could choose to be disappointed that none of them perfectly matches what I want. All of them have flaws. But instead, I've found the couple candidates that best match what I'm looking for, and I am going to support them. I will vote for them in the primary. But I also recognize that politics isn't perfect and it isn't pretty. Money is involved. Power is involved. Deals are involved. That isn't a recipe for perfection, obviously. The candidate that emerges from my party may not be the one who best fits my wish list. But the truth is that I may wait my entire life for that candidate and never get them.
So that leaves me a choice that is going to become evident to a lot of these conservative folks out there should Mitt eventually win the nomination: do I accept the reality that America embraced a two-party system, and engage that system by supporting the party that I think is more likely to reverse course (best case scenario) or slow our descent (worst case scenario) into the abyss, or do I withdraw from the system? There will be many who will withdraw from the system based on principle. And that's a curious thing to me. Because their principles will hasten the perpetuation of the status quo - or worse.
It's a conversation that I don't look forward to having. It's what I'd rather not have to talk about for the next 11 months. I want to have a staunch conservative who will carry the mantle so boldly that I can tout their ideas and champion them to skeptical but open-minded liberals. I do not want to have the conversation of why conservatives need to back a less conservative candidate rather than disengage because their perfect candidate didn't win the primary. I don't look forward to having to battle against the notion that it is a matter of "choosing the lesser of the two evils" when it's not.
I haven't backed Mitt Romney. There's no questioning that fact. But not because I think he's just as bad as Obama. Not because I think he would damage our country. Not because I think he's evil. I haven't backed Mitt Romney because he's not the strongest conservative in this primary race and because on a lot of issues, I don't think he's very conservative. I haven't backed him because I see more reliable conservatives who I believe will have a lot stronger backbone when it comes to changing the culture in Washington.
But should Mitt end up with the nomination, there is a wide chasm that separates him from Obama. I'm hoping that the next 11 months aren't defined by trying to convince disgruntled conservatives of that pretty obvious reality.