Bryan Fischer and Mitt Romney have had a rather contentious relationship going back all the way to last year's Values Voter Summit, when Romney called out Fischer from the stage for his relentless bigotry. Ever since, Fischer has been a vocal critic of Romney personally and a thorn in the side of his campaign, complicated efforts to unify the Religious Right behind Romney heading into the election.
In fact, just last month Fischer dedicated a segment on his radio program to asking listeners to call in and share their opinions about whether he was being too hard on Romney and asking if they thought that his constant criticism of Romney and his campaign was, in the end, helping President Obama.
It was, Fischer said, a relatively simple question:
"Do you want me to keep telling you the sort of honest and sometimes ugly truth about Romney or do you, I don't know how else to put this, do you want me to kind of shade the truth because if I tell the truth about Mitt Romney, it may discourage voters in the pro-family movement?"
Most of the callers told Fischer to keep after Romney and do whatever he could to hold his feet to the fire on the issues that they care about, which is exactly what Fischer argued was necessary in a column he wrote just two weeks ago:
Some conservatives complain when conservative voices such as mine register complaints about Gov. Romney’s agenda. They don’t want his feet held to the fire until after he defeats President Obama. That will be the time, they say, after he’s been elected, to put the pressure on.
But surely this is misguided. If we don’t hold his feet to the fire now, how will it be possible to do it then? If he gets elected while ignoring legitimate conservative concerns, because conservatives haven’t even voiced them, what possible reason do conservatives have to think he’ll pay attention to conservative concerns while in office?
The truth is that conservatives who complain loudly and longly now, in the hopes that the governor can be persuaded to at least sound like a conservative, are doing him the biggest favor of all.
Bottom line: the conservatives who complain vocally about his lurch to the center-left are the best friends he has in the world, and represent his last, best hope of sitting one day in Barack Obama’s empty chair.
But in the last two weeks, Romney has struggled trough serious missteps and revelations that have left his campaign reeling ... and now Fischer has suddenly changed his tune and declared that the time for criticizing Romney has passed and so conservatives need to simply fall into line and hope for the best:
This approach of constructive criticism was appropriate through the primary season, through the conventions, and through the Values Voter Summit two weekends ago. However, with the election less than 50 days away, the time to nudge the governor further to the right is probably past. He has likely been nudged as far as he can be nudged. He is what he is, and with the heat and intensity of a campaign in the stretch run, there simply is not enough time for him to do any further retooling. There isn’t time for a “turnaround” even if it would be a good idea.
The constructive criticism served a good purpose. In response, the governor seems to have embraced the need to deliver a more well-rounded conservative message, offer more in the way of specifics, talk more openly about values issues, and unleash Paul Ryan. Those adjustments, if he will follow through on them, are about all conservatives can expect at this stage of the game.
At some point, the criticism, as well-intended as it might be, becomes counter-productive. From my perspective, we have now reached that point. Ann Romney is probably right to call for a cease-fire from the friendlies.
It’s now time for the conservative community to accept Gov. Romney as he is, realize he is as conservative as he is likely to get, and focus our energies on drawing the significant contrasts between the president and the governor on critical issues such as abortion, marriage, Israel and the economy.
In competitive golf, we have an expression: play it as it lies. If your ball lands in a divot, you play it from the divot. If it lands at the base of a tree, you play it from the base of the tree. You don’t get to kick the ball out in the fairway to get the lie you want.
We’re now at that place with Gov. Romney. Conservatives are clearly playing from an awkward lie with the governor. But winning shots have been hit from bad lies in the past, and they can be hit from bad lies again. It’s time now for conservatives to get the ball as close to the pin as possible on November 6.
As we have said before, for all of the Religious Right's talk of putting principles over politics, when push comes to shove, they always fall in line.