What Does George Will Suggest That Republicans Do?

The influential conservative columnist is against Mitt Romney. But who is he for? And how does he explain the GOP's pathologies?

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George Will, the influential conservative newspaper columnist, has written a piece in the Washington Post eviscerating Mitt Romney, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Its criticisms are devastating because they are accurate: the former Massachusetts governor flip flops constantly, has no apparent principles, and takes all sorts of damaging, indefensible positions in the course of his pandering. "Republican successes down the ticket will depend on the energies of the Tea Party and other conservatives, who will be deflated by a nominee whose blurry profile in caution communicates only calculated trimming," Will writes. "Has conservatism come so far, surmounting so many obstacles, to settle, at a moment of economic crisis, for this?"

So concludes the column. Can I request a sequel? If not Romney, who? If the problem with the former Massachusetts governor is that he seems "to lack the courage of his absence of convictions," is Rick Perry any better? The Texas governor has disavowed the views on federalism that he expressed in a book he wrote on federalism; he seeks to be the champion of a Tea Party that rails against crony capitalism, even as his tenure in Texas reeks of public sector decisions determining private sector winners; and the surest way to succeed in the Lone Star State seems to be making a hefty donation to the Rick Perry campaign fund. Even if Perry's principles, ethics and flip-flopping weren't disqualifying, his inability to articulate himself in public or summon the energy necessary to hold his own on a debate stage doom his general election chances. And his signature domestic proposal on taxes is, as Reihan Salam puts it, an embarrassment.

So Herman Cain? He flip-flopped on a matter of grave consequence, the assassination without due process of an American citizen; his 9-9-9 plan, the centerpiece of his domestic agenda, is nonsense; he flaunts his ignorance of foreign policy specifics, and his general foreign policy philosophy can't stand up to the simplest criticism; and anyway, Will doesn't think he can win either.

There are, of course, better candidates if one begins to look at the folks most actual Republican voters are ignoring. Jon Huntsman is a credible candidate for movement conservatives, even if they don't know it. Gary Johnson and Ron Paul are both principled champions of what Tea Partiers say they believe, and seldom if ever compromise their values or flip flop. An endorsement of any of these three in a new Will column would be a significant boost.

And although it's too late now for Mitch Daniels or Tim Pawlenty or Bobby Jindhal or Chris Christie, there are plenty of Republicans out there who are more appealing than Romney/Cain/Perry. Why haven't they run? How is it that the GOP has wound up with front-runners so unappealing?

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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