At 70, columnist George Will might be forgiven some mellowing. That will clearly not be necessary after reading his broadside against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
The Obama team inside and out of government feels Romney is not only the likeliest Republican presidential nominee in 2012, but also the most formidable of the field arrayed against the president. They will be using any criticism of Romney from any source to try and start the hoped-for loss of tea party support for the nominee.
But some sources are better than others, and five-star conservative commentators are best of all.
Conservative enthusiasts of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, businessman Herman Cain or former Speaker Newt Gingrich are also looking for any cudgel with which to beat back Romney’s huge lead in New Hampshire.
“Republicans may have found their Michael Dukakis,” Will concluded about Romney, and that will leave a mark.
Contemporaneous with the Will salvo, Team Romney released the endorsements of two former attorneys general — William Barr and Michael Mukasey — and other former senior Department of Justice officials, an important show of strength in an election cycle that will inevitably be focusing on the controversial Obama-Holder Justice Department.
It was another conventional move in a likely GOP nominee’s conventional attempt to take the center away from the Democrats so 270 electoral votes are in the red column by the close of election 2012. But conventional tactics aren’t winning hearts and minds among many big stars in the conservative pantheon.
Other influential commentators on the right — Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin to name two — had already thrown some heavy policy critiques at Romney when George Will first trotted out the Dukakis slam on ABC and then doubled down in his Washington Post column.
Knocking Romney for his Massachusetts mandate has become as popular as blasting Perry for his debate performances or hammering Cain for campaign inexperience and gaffes.
All the attacks on all the candidates take a toll. But some attacks productively push a candidate on policy. Attacks on character, as opposed to attacks on positions or ineptitude, are a different category of poison-tipped arrow.
“Obama’s second inaugural” is not a speech most conservatives would ever want to read or hear, but the imperfections of the GOP field are so, well, tempting.
Punditry-induced crackups by candidates are rare but not impossible. Mitt Romney’s dad, George, suffered one in his campaign for the presidency 44 years ago.
On Aug. 31, 1967, a local television host asked the first Gov. Romney about his trip to Vietnam. “When I came back from Vietnam,” Romney responded, “I’d just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get.” The campaign was effectively over.
The most memorable commentary of this primary season will not blow away and vanish with the winter. It will be back in the spring, summer and fall, recycled by Obama’s campaign pros and relayed by the Obama supporters in the mainstream media.
Examiner columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.