Kimberley A. Strassel's Wall Street Journal column today provides a window on Republican orthodoxy, including the party's teeth-grinding resistance to Mitt Romney's candidacy, circa 2011. That orthodoxy continues to evolve in truly remarkable fashion. Strassel's thesis is that Mitt Romney, who was born into wealth and made many millions as a successful private equity manager, suffers from "Guilty Republican Syndrome." Incapacitated by guilt over his wealth and success, Romney is "waving a white flag" in the class war, Strassel writes, instead of demonstrating "a principled understanding of capital and job creation."
Strassel ominously counts the number of times Romney cites the "middle" class in a debate answer and disapprovingly points to Romney's contention that the "rich" are "doing just fine." (Like "middle," the word "rich" apparently requires quotation marks, lest Strassel inadvertently endorses the notion that middle class and rich are more than mental constructs. Strassel also puts "1%" in quote marks as if its existence is debatable. Jonathan Chait has written extensively on the hermeneutics of quotation marks at the Wall Street Journal.)
Strassel quotes Romney at an Iowa town hall: "For me, one of the key criteria in looking at tax policy is to make sure that we help the people that need the help the most." For Strassel, this represents "the sort of statements that cause conservative voters to doubt Mr. Romney's convictions."
To which the question can only be: which convictions? A conviction that the people who need help the most shouldn't receive any? That those who don't need help should receive lots of it anyway? Strassel doesn't say. As key Republicans ever more openly identify national prosperity with the fate of the wealthiest Americans, however, perhaps such convictions, along with the meaning of euphemistic phrases like "a principled understanding of capital and job creation," will become less opaque.
But don't expect Mitt Romney to sign on to an overt crusade to champion the top 1% -- with or without the quote marks. Like the shrewd private equity manager he once was, Romney can count -- votes as well as dollars.
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)