November 29, 2007

ACU Endorses Romney? (Update: Keene, Not ACU)

Another unusual endorsement has appeared in a cycle full of them, and this time, Mitt Romney hits the sweepstakes. Struggling all year to shed his Massachusetts centrism, Romney won an important conservative endorsement from David Keene of the American Conservative Union. Like Pat Robertson's endorsement of Rudy Giuliani and the National Right To Life endorsement of Fred Thompson, this one may leave ACU's constituents scratching their heads:

Less than 24 hours after former Gov. Mitt Romney (Mass.) jousted with his rivals over his conservative credentials at the CNN/YouTube debate in Florida, he is set to receive the endorsement from American Conservative Union President David Keene.

Keene said he became "convinced that Mitt Romney represents our best hope for 2008" and added that in the weeks remaining before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, 2008 he would work to persuade "my fellow conservatives that if we are serious about electing a conservative president in 2008, it's time to unite behind his candidacy."

Long courted by Romney, Keene agreed to formalize his endorsement of the former governor during a face to face meeting in Florida on Tuesday, according to knowledgeable sources. Of Keene, Romney said he was "proud" to have the endorsement for his "campaign for conservative change."

Keene is a longtime member of the conservative movement, having spent the last quarter-century at the American Conservative Union. Prior to that post, Keene held a number of political positions including Southern regional political director for Ronald Reagan in 1976, national political director for George H. W. Bush in 1980 and senior adviser to Bob Dole in 1988 and 1996.

Oddly enough, all of these organizations use the argument that they need to find the most electable candidate -- and all of them reach different conclusions. Conservatives who follow the ACU's lead must be rather confused, as Keene himself wrote this same year that he mistrusted sudden shifts to win conservative support for reasons of electability. He specifically named Romney in that indictment:

McCain, of course, began early in an attempt to patch up his differences with the religious conservatives he tried to demonize back in 2000 by visiting fundamentalist leaders and even hinting that he might support the teaching of creationism in the schools. Whether that worked or not remains to be seen, but now he’s telling folks that he’s rethought his previous apostasy on taxes and decided that the Bush tax cuts he opposed ought to be made permanent just as soon as possible. This year it seems he’s willing to let Democrat John Edwards don the mantle of class warfare while he emerges as a born-again supply-sider.

Meanwhile, America’s Mayor, no doubt heeding the warnings of advisers who are suggesting that GOP conservatives may have a tough time accepting a candidate who is pro-abortion, pro-gay and anti-gun, is hinting that on reflection he believes his position on abortion has been misunderstood and may require clarification even as his New York City backers are bombarding conservatives around the country with the news that Rudy is in fact one of them.

Not to be outdone, Massachusetts’s Mitt Romney, whom many believe could retire the 2008 pandering cup before he’s through, assures conservative audiences wherever he finds them that he’s pro-life, essentially pro-gun and horrified by homosexuality, previous statements or actions notwithstanding. Anything he said or did previous to deciding to run for president, he implies, should be taken as a reflection of what he had to do because of the circumstances in which he found himself rather than of his core beliefs.

It’s certainly or at least barely possible that John McCain has morphed into the second coming of Jack Kemp and that the other two are being honest as they reflect on issues about which they may not previously have given much serious thought, but to the casual observer at least it all seems, well, unseemly.

Part of this appears to be an attempt to make sense of a very fluid and confusing primary. Organizations like the ACU want to get ahead of public opinion and lead it, but don't want to get caught backing a failing horse. If Romney fails to win conservatives, it will lessen the perceived influence of the ACU, but if the ACU senses conservative support for Romney and gets behind him early, it enhances the appearance of power.

It might behoove these organizations -- the ACU is not alone in this -- to stay out of the endorsement business altogether, especially when their endorsee doesn't match with their stated goals. Why not instead note the positions candidates have taken on various critical issues and let the voters decide for themselves? Better yet, why not endorse the candidate who most closely matches the organizational goals in the primary, and leave the horsetrading for the general election? Duncan Hunter seems a much closer match to ACU's policy goals -- and maybe with some real backing in the conservative movement, he could have made a move in Iowa before Mike Huckabee, who also seems like at least as good of a match as Romney based on his governing record and stated policy goals.

UPDATE: This is a personal endorsement, not an organizational endorsement, as Keene explained on today's Hugh Hewitt show. The ACU will not endorse any candidate.


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