Rock, meet Hard Place.
Rock is the succession of farce candidacies that has marked the Republican presidential primary so far. Trump. Bachmann. Perry. Cain. It is no wonder that the likes of Gov. Mitch Daniels, Gov. Chris Christie, and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty have either declined to run or quit early. They can't give the party what it needs right now.
It isn't simply ideological purity. The moderates are gone. How much daylight (at least on paper) is there, really, between former Gov. Mitt Romney and the rest of the field? As much as there was between Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller? Not even close. As much as there was between Ronald Reagan and George H.W Bush in 1980. Still not close. George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain in 2000? Sorry. Closer, but no cigar.
No, what animates the base now is a corrosive mistrust of institutions and insiders.
The only reason that Romney commands a narrow frontrunner status in this climate is because he's got the money and he's done this before. Inertia and institutional knowledge are buoying him right now.
And here is why he's the Hard Place.
According to an expose in Thursday's Washington Post, Romney met with a group of abortion-rights advocates in September 2002 and agreed that someday he could be, in effect, a trojan horse for the social left:
"You need someone like me in Washington," several participants recalled Romney saying that day in September 2002, an apparent reference to his future ambitions.
Romney made similar assurances to activists for gay rights and the environment, according to people familiar with the discussions, both as a candidate for governor and then in the early days of his term.
"Someone like me in Washington"—I can't think of a more damningly succinct phrase that captures what every Trump/Bachmann/Perry/Cain enthusiast hates about Mitt Romney.
He is the ultimate creature of elite, oleaginous insider-dom. If he ultimately does secure the GOP nomination, it will be the sharpest elbow to the thorax that rank-and-file conservatives will have ever endured.
Jon Stewart surveys the Republican primary race so far and declares that Romney is the "luckiest motherfudger on earth."
Not quite. President Obama could be even luckier. It took the worst financial crisis in half-a-century to push a candidate with such a thin resume over the finish line. Next year he should, by all rights, be toast.
But his rivals on the right are a bunch of clowns, plus one utter fraud.