Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mitt Romney, Tea Party Candidate

I wrote over at Greg's place yesterday that one reason social conservatives haven't opposed Mitt Romney effectively might be that they don't really mind if he wins; after all, there's no actual separation on social conservative issues between where Romney says he is and where the other candidates are. Jonathan Cohn made the case yesterday that on fiscal issues Romney is actually quite radical, and Ezra Klein notes that Romney is far to the right of George W. Bush's 2000 campaign.

Indeed, as far as I can tell there's virtually no separation between Romney and the other candidates on core conservative issues. The main "problem" with Romney from their point of view is not his current professed positions; it's whether he can be trusted, given his record in Massachusetts (including both his time as governor and his two campaigns). Note that every attack against him (health care, abortion, his business record) from primary opponents has been about his past, not his current positions. And it's probably a plus for him that whatever his past, he's stuck with his current issue positions (except, perhaps, where the party as a whole has shifted) through two presidential cycles. It doesn't guarantee he'll be loyal in office, but it presumably can't hurt.

This helps explain why the supposed "anti-Romney" vote never really existed, at least to any large extent; it was always a "not enthusiastic about Romney" group (and see John Sides and Lynn Vavreck for confirming data).

Which doesn't mean that Romney was never vulnerable. I think he was. But it does explain why he wasn't immediately toppled by a Tea Party candidate. Team Romney made sure from the start that there just wouldn't be any issue on which a Tea Party candidate could find any separation in their current positions. It appears that it worked at the group level: no key Republican groups really tried hard to veto Romney. And that probably was enough for him to win the nomination fairly easily.

4 comments:

  1. all true.

    But the Mormon issue is much bigger.

    Not only are Mormons not people of the book, Romney is lying his ass off it, and it further playing to Romney as a flip flopping secretive private equity manager.

    Almost as disastrous as Carly Fiona and Meg Whitman together.

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    1. The Mormon issue is only as big as preachers want to make it. It doesn't take a lot of words to inflame it or settle it down for those who listen to their preacher on this issue. For those who make up their own minds, Romney being a Mormon is an issue only if they already dislike him (like you, evidently).

      So it's warfare to divide people by race and class, but fine to divide based on Mormon religion? I have a better idea--let's turn people into scary others, OK?

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  2. Another way of saying there's no actual separation is that all the candidates, except Paul, chose to compete for votes from the same fairly narrow electorate. Or, put still another way, they all seem to have essentially the same vision of the GOP and what it can be -- the party of Nationalist Socialist-Destroying Antifederalist Plutocrats (NSDAP? oops), or something like that. Obviously there's nothing like the Rockefeller-Goldwater or Reagan-Ford competition underway today, a struggle to define the party in basically different ways. There would be if Paul could get more votes, but I suppose his experience tends to confirm that the other candidates are guessing right, at least in the short term. But longer term (or even medium-term, i.e. later this year), it's dangerous for a party to be so narrowly based. The hostility to Hispanics... uh, I mean to illegal immigration, for instance, is going to cost them significantly this fall, let alone going forward.

    I suppose one could argue that the Democrats also have no great ideological divide, since Clinton and Obama mostly debated details in '08 rather than fundamental positions. But at least on that side you have a recurring struggle in the primaries, one that is variously described as blue-collar / heartland vs. white-collar / coastal, "Old" vs. "New Democrats," or "establishment" vs. "insurgent" candidates. At least it's clearer that the party is a coalition of different constituencies. In the GOP, obvious non-insurgents like Romney, Gingrich and Huntsman twist themselves into pretzels pretending to be as hostile to the modern world as Michele Bachmann, but in a slightly more sober and "electable" way. Hence, no separation. (That is, until Gingrich, his back against the wall, suddenly morphs into Eugene V. Debs for a couple of weeks). It's hard to see how a party that isn't even seriously trying to appeal to more than about 22% of the population hope to win nationally, except in low-turnout midterms or amid economic calamity. I suppose Romney is thinking he can do a Bush 2000 and rely on personal affability to disguise the radicalism of his program. And I suppose that might work, if Obama decides to re-run the Gore or Dukakis campaign. I'm encouraged by early signs that he's not planning to do that.

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