With Congressional approval ratings languishing in the single digits, there’s legitimate question whether any Senator’s endorsement helps anyone in the current GOP race. Do 9% coattails even count? Then again, John Thune isn’t just any U.S. Senator, and the man he endorsed isn’t just any candidate. He’s the man still predicted as the likeliest choice to be debating President Barack Obama this time next year.
On a sunny stage in Iowa, Wednesday, South Dakota U.S. Senator John Thune gave Mitt Romney his endorsement for the Republican nomination. For me, two instantaneous questions came to mind. When did John Thune change his mind about Mitt Romney, and, could offering such a nomination hurt Thune far more than it helps Mitt Romney? For some conservatives in his home state, the latter is a question worth consideration.
On September 21, 2011, Thune laid down a bold marker in the ongoing GOP nominating tussle. In an appearance on Laura Ingraham’s syndicated radio show, Thune expressed his desire that Mitt Romney would definitively disavow ‘RomneyCare,’ the public health system built by Romney and used by Barack Obama as a pattern for ObamaCare, the loathed and legally challenged policy many Republicans see as President Obama’s greatest political liability. Said Thune, exactly two months ago:
“I hope that our candidate for President and all of us out there who are supporting that person will be very engaged in talking about a role for the government that is limited that is consistent with our Constitutional framework that is consistent with our heritage, our history and our tradition and get away from this idea that government can do everything and that we’re going to continue to create this entitlement mentality that we have in America today,” Thune said. “We’ve got to be able to clearly communicate what it is that we’re about and how that’s different from what they (Democrats) want.”
Roger that, Mr. Thune. Message received and applauded.
The Republicans’ fourth-in-command on Capitol Hill, Thune was effectively voicing the concerns of most conservatives, that such a lack of contrast in candidates might not only imperil GOP chances for victory in 2012, but offer only a symbolic change in leadership by exchanging a LIBERAL democrat for a LIBERAL republican. In other words, there are valid questions about whether nominating Romney might seriously blunt the sharpest lance in the GOP arsenal.
After watching Thune address a crowd in Iowa, standing shoulder to shoulder with Romney as he offered the former Massachusetts Governor his full endorsement, those questions have only grown larger, and they’re now attached similarly to John Thune, impugning either the tall South Dakotan’s political judgment, or his motivations in ignoring his own spot-on assessment of Romney’s flip-flopping liabilities.
Other questions remain, as well: What does Romney promise to Thune to gain such a public basketball pivot? Vice-President? Agriculture Secretary? An expanded ethanol subsidy for South Dakota farmers? Dinner at the Bohemian Grove? (Kidding.) (Kind of.)
For conservatives in his own state, never easily nor permanently convinced of a lawmaker’s conservative fidelity, even a recently-awarded 95% Heritage Foundation voting index may be obscured by this Romney horse trade. If Thune doesn’t get anything in exchange for the reputational black eye and ill-spent political capital, the damage is even worse. South Dakotans are sticklers for getting something for their money. Why else do you think they kept reelecting Tom Daschle?
For John Thune, there may be no payoff worth the trouble and questions to come.
Shad Olson is an Emmy Award-winning television anchor and radio host in Rapid City, South Dakota. The Shad Olson Show is broadcast daily over a network of radio stations and streaming video websites in more than 140 cities and 28 states. He is a published fiction author, journalist and regular contributor to multiple internet sources, including Life and Liberty Media.