Some influential conservative thinkers have concluded that Mitt Romney's struggle to ignite voter enthusiasm reflects a more serious problem for Republicans in setting unrealistic expectations for their presidential nominee.
Calling their alliance Project Liberty, the newly formed group says the former Massachusetts governor cannot beat President Obama unless tea party members and the GOP's activists — including conservatives on the Republican National Committee — adjust their mindset about insisting on a fully formed, ideologically reliable candidate as their standard-bearer.
"The mission of the Project Liberty is to figure out how to stop this nation's march toward socialism," said Oregon RNC member Solomon Yue, one of the driving forces behind Project Liberty.
Mr. Yue, who escaped Chinese communist rule in 1980, compared this year's battle for the White House to the D-Day landing on Normandy Beach during Word War II.
"The task is to explain to Romney and to the conservative activists suspicious about him that taking the beach is like winning the presidency," Mr. Yue said. "It is not the end but a means to the end — liberating Europe from Axis occupiers or, in Romney's case, returning America to the freedom-first principles of the founding fathers."
Russ Walker, vice president of FreedomWorks, which organized the first major tea party event with the 2009 March on Washington, said Project Liberty's organizers are looking to give activists a plausible reason for enthusiasm about electing a nominee now viewed with varying degrees of skepticism.
Hoover Institution scholar Jeremy Carl, another Project Liberty founder, said the problem is that GOP activists are, more than ever, searching for the impossible: a single political savior capable of leading America back to its founding principles of limited government and unlimited opportunity.
But even many of the country's greatest political leaders — Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan — weren't elected as saviors, and only came to be regarded as such by admirers later.
Project Liberty backers have concluded that Mr. Romney will not win the White House on the basis of something he is not — a 21st century American philosopher-king. Nor will he win the presidency unless the right's various interest groups, from tea party activists to RNC conservatives, unite.
The right's unrealistic search for the knight in shining armor helps explain the rise and fall of a string of challengers to Mr. Romney in the nomination merry-go-round this year. Project Liberty's founders also say that longing explains why tea partyers split their vote about evenly between Mr. Romney and Rick Santorum in the Illinois primary, late in the primary season.
Project Liberty organizers say the GOP should not be a kind of social club whose members gain power and wealth by beating rivals inside their own coalition. Instead, they see the GOP as a vehicle of mass influence more congenial to maximizing individual responsibility and the freedom to take risks than the Democratic Party, with what they say is its emphasis on minimizing risks and maximizing the welfare of all.
One aim of the new effort is to ensure that if Mr. Romney wins the presidency, "He will resist pressures from powerful interest groups, including some within the GOP, to expand government, something previous GOP presidents failed to do," said Mr. Carl, also a scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Another Project Liberty aim is to help willing tea party members join forces with like-minded GOP activists to win majority representation at all levels of the party, from local precincts to county and state organizations to the RNC.
"Ultimately, our goal, when the GOP finally has the White House and both houses of Congress again, is to return to founding principles," Mr. Yue said.
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