This is really a weird column, and if you didn't tell me it was written by Ponnuru I would have guessed it was written by, say David Brooks - someone plausibly sympathetic to Republicans, but at heart, really conflicted.
First, I'll object to his last assertion - that conservatives object to Mitt because they "fear" he would lead the party to "ruin"
I'm a conservative and I know he would be a lousy Republican, and supply very few coat strings because he does not inspire passion, and because he himself is not animated nor passionate about the philosophical underpinnings of conservativism - You sense, in his heart, he really doesn't believe that the country can be liberated and experience growth in prosperity and freedom through the dimishment of federal largesse. He is passionate about himself and his own destiny and his need to vindicate his father's aspirations, and then to surpass him, finally. Ponneru uses the loaded language of liberals - strange! - when talking about Republicans misplaced fear. We don't fear he will ruin the party - we fear his lukewarm embrace of conservatism will be forever linked to the movement itself, and whatever his failures will be artfully twisted to represent the failures of this philosophy. We fear that what we see as his compulsive need to be liked by the MSM will spill over into GHWBush-like invitations across the aisle to extend his hand, forgetting how skillfully Mitchell outplayed the old man.
He won't ruin the party though - he is an honorable man and he would be a decent and serviceable one-term president who will do little to change the national political dialogue. His successor would be a liberal, but one cloaked in the robes of moderation a la Bill Clinton - claiming this time he is a Democrat who learned from the excesses of the Obama administration - he'll be different - trust me.
Ponnuru says -"'conservatives believed that ideological impurity, especially on spending, had caused those 2006- 2008 losses"
First off - "ideological impurity" is the kind of phrase liberals love to employ when criticizing the right - as in, our zeal to weed out "impurity" that makes it impossible for us to compromise in areas like, say, the super committee. Don't get me started there. Leaving aside the odd choice of words from a man like him, it is not true that conservatives thought "impurity" caused losses - they thought big spending caused a bloated and out of control federal government, and provided democrats with enormous cover to up the ante to ever higher, unheard of levels. it wasn't "impurity" which led to losses, but a lack of animating philosophical energy which gave people of positive reason to get behind the party's candidates - no one like Reagan or Kemp or even Christy was out there on a national scale, selling an idea of what drives the party.
Ponnuru confounds Republicanism with tea-partyism - another liberal habit of convenience.
"Republicans believe that their 2010 election victories were rewards for returning to the true path of conservatism that they had left in the Bush years."
What an ignorant simplification of the attitude of Republicans - yes, they were energized by the drive and passion of the tea-party, notwithstanding it painfully backfired in at least two Senate elections. They believe, I think, that there elections were largely a repudiation of the most grandiose corrupt and unwelcome government power grab in history, in the form of Obamacare. The tea-party, which grew independent of the Republican party, (though admittedly its aims are often congruent), gave a coherent voice to the conservative wing of the party, a language with which to shaper the argument against the incumbent liberals. Find me one idiot who claims we won because we returned to the "true path"?? The only people who use language like that are liberals, who have no other equipment with which to fight conservatism, and instead resort to the arch, unfunny mockery that worked so well among pundits for most of the second half of the 20th century. There seems to be a nostalgic comfort derived form creating then burning those old bogeymen.
He says "In Colorado and Nevada, ( hey - he forgot about Maryland! ) conservative primary voters rejected two electable, conventionally conservative candidates because they were considered part of a compromising establishment."
Ummm yeah, they did. These were tea-party activists, green, idealistic, foolish - admittedly. But how does this recitation of recent history support his earlier argument that "ideological impurity" caused the 2008 election losses in the minds of republicans, but 2010 success was a result of our return to purity - so simple minded.
Those tea-party candidates were as ideologically pure as they come, and they got beat - So does he think we're blind to events as well as just foolishly ideological. because we certainly "returned" to purity there and we got our ass handed to us. Most republicans I heard from on a national level, lamented the nomination of O'Donnell, to name the most prominent example, because it was obvious the other guy, a moderate, would have won. Where does Ponnuru get this stuff? - Newsweek? He makes no sense here, and he tries to squirm out of it in the end as would any NYT/Globe columnist attempting to appear post-ideological by claming that the "real mistakes of the Bush administration keep being made." Right - way to make the two administrations seems politically indivisible, and demonstrate that you alone can see this - nice touch.
Look, I usually like RP, but why not just write the column you meant to write. The candidates we have running aren't the best and it stinks that the Bush administration didn't leave us with a better bull-pen to draw upon - shame on them. If we let the tea-party dominate things, we might end up with a charming but empty suit like Cain - Or an unelectable neophyte like Bachman. Romney is our best chance - it's fine if he thinks that - and thinks our ideological right might give us a loser of a candidate where Obama is eminently beatable. So say that, instead of propping up all kinds of old fashioned calumnies against Republicans - That is unless you're looking for a job at the Daily Beast.