The Republican Elite are Rooting for Obama
Major Republican politicians and writers are quietly working against Mitt Romney in the hopes of securing the voters he’s alienated in what will probably be that constituency’s last hurrah in 2016.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is my last column for The Faster Times. I’ve had a marvelous run in this noble endeavor and wish the team all the best. If you want to discuss the future or just talk shop about politics, please drop me a line through my listed email address over at Google+, aka “LinkedIn for the set that would feel really stupid for linking to LinkedIn in an online political column.”
Why on earth are major publications not calling the nomination for Mitt Romney?
They know there’s no way Romney won’t clean up in the remainder of New England, New York, and California when the time comes, and that even if he winds up short of the “magic number” coming into the Republican convention, he will command pluralities of both the popular vote and delegate count. And there will be no “white knight” on the second ballot. Of the realistic candidates, all of them have basically said they don’t want it, including: Chris Christie (Governor of New Jersey), Mitch Daniels (Governor of Indiana), Jeb Bush (former governor of Florida), Mike Huckabee (former governor of Arkansas), Marco Rubio (Senator from Florida), John Thune (Senator from South Dakota), Jim DeMint (Senator from South Carolina), Paul Ryan (Representative from Wisconsin)… the only person who’s said they’d be open to it is famed reality television star Sarah Palin, and if Republicans know one thing, it’s that nominating Sarah Palin is an even surer-fire way to lose than nominating Mitt Romney.
For nonpartisan and left-leaning publications, downplaying Romney’s inevitability comes from the creative and financial lure of the horse race. What will happen next Tuesday, with the primaries in Alabama and Mississippi? Will Romney prevail after Santorum and Gingrich destroy one another? Will the South reject Romney again and vote for Santorum and/or Gingrich? Will anyone really care a month later when Romney wins pretty much every other non-Southern state handily? Perhaps not in the future, they say, but right now, with ads to sell, writers to keep happy, and adwords to pander to, why not keep dragging this out by raising expectations?
The insidious cheerleading for a continued Republican race, on the other hand, comes from the right itself. Before Ohio was even called, the National Review had an article up called “Danger Signals for Mitt Romney.” Bill Kristol, the gleeful neoconservative, mocked the purported “power-brokers” in the Republican party for failing to secure a Romney knockout with a blog post over at the Weekly Standard that would’ve gotten him fired from the New York Times for repeated inaccuracy if he wasn’t already, um, fired from the New York Times ages ago for repeated inaccuracy. These people ostensibly want Barack Obama gone. Why are they rooting for a primary season which has been brutally adept at exposing the weaknesses of the candidate with the largest organizational advantage to go on like this?
Like the more restrained George F. Will over at the Washington Post, these writers and all the other Republican “elites” who are considering 2016 runs have realized that 2012 is a lost cause, and they want to start cutting their losses while maintaining their dwindling enthusiasm. The people that’ve been most fired-up about these primaries are not the $100,000+/year exurban income-earners who are going to be voting mostly Republican regardless of the election because they want their taxes cut. Instead, it’s been the furious base, the Tea Party groups the Republicans and their strategists like Dick Armey co-opted so effectively in 2010 for their House races, even as their incompetent insurgent Senate candidates left the upper house of Congress in Democratic hands.
Those voters have handed victories to Santorum in places like Colorado and Iowa, and that really scares the Republican leadership. Romney is winning the states he “seriously” competes in, sure, but he’s winning them in urban counties where the Democratic vote is going to be stiflingly huge in 2012. Santorum, on the other hand, is winning “the base,” the groups in outer counties where turnout propels Republicans to victory time and again in states like Missouri, Colorado, Iowa, North Carolina, and Virginia. If the party loses those voters to apathy with a Romney nomination/loss and Obama is no longer on the ballot to galvanize their inchoate rage in 2016, Republicans are looking at a long time out in the cold and a fundamental realignment of political power outside of the South and Religious Right for good.
The solution, according to almost all of these Republican insiders, is to let Romney replay the McCain campaign, then tell the rabid conservatives that they were right all along. Let the race tear Romney down, offer him no help, let him lose to Obama (while maintaining at least some stranglehold in Congress to frustrate the Democratic agenda, as George Will explicitly advocates), and then run in 2016 in what will effectively be a big-budget remake of the 2012 primaries. No more B-listers (Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann), just the real deal people who are just as hollowly driven to power as Romney is, but a little more personable and able to connect with the rage they’ve engendered amongst their constituents.
Why would a party throw an election they would otherwise have a somewhat decent chance of winning? It’s that fear of the demographic crunch that’s now popping up as a major issue across many major left-leaning publications. As much as they pooh-pooh the idea in public, Republicans are very seriously noting that their rabid 24% base (the percentage that still liked George W. Bush when he left office) is costing them big by forcing them into battles over things they would otherwise like to do, such as ending the payroll tax holiday (populist elements torpedoed the corporate wing of the party), raising the debt ceiling (which Democrats wanted as well but the populists balked at), etc. But if that group truly is shrinking, electing a Republican now will only engender a massive Democratic response in 2016 when the “party of No” finally has to try and govern and realizes, like George H.W. Bush did, that it’s harder than it looks. It’s not that the base is totally going away in the next four to eight years… it’s that they’re falling apart, kowtowing to them will make governance impossible.
Instead of succumbing to it, establishment Republicans are saying, why not wait it out? After all, they can keep Obama busy with obstructionism and keep their base interested by beating the war drum against him. (Lest you think that birtherism and other forms of covert racism are “over,” realize that a stunning 37% of Republican primary voters in Ohio still think the President was not born in the United States. That number is even higher in Tennessee, constituting a plurality of 45%.) Then they can use those voters, who will be quite fragmented by 2016, to come together one last time and elect a vaguely moderate Republican like Christie or Daniels, saving the brand from extremism and offering a launchpad for a new coalition of voters based more out of the Mountain West, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest than the grim Ozarks and Deep South.
These “elites” realize the Republican base is collapsing. They understand that the reactionary gasp of 2010 was just that: a dangerous and unsustainable growth that has several anti-business and anti-sanity elements in it a party that lives and dies on corporate donations (as both major parties do) cannot hope to keep up. When many of them enter the race in 2016, they will no longer have a young, cerebral, black President to paint as “weak on national security” or guilty of “class warfare” in a manner that is about as plausible as him getting up on the Democratic convention’s stage and singing an a capella rendition of Roy Harper’s “I Hate the White Man” to all but people who want to hate him in the first place, no matter who wins in 2012. They need to get back to the sustainable Nixon coalition in more moderate climes like the swiftly-changing Texas and hyper-wealthy Connecticut without relying on the soon-to-be-defunct Southern strategy.
But they think they can step on the heads of that almost-dead base on the way to a evangelical-awakening-era-fueled victory one last time. Better, in their minds, to do it when they have a chance of building a new coalition with a new candidate in 2016, rather than holding together the squabbling remnants of the old one on the way to re-defeat with Mitt Romney at the helm. Time will tell if they’re right. In the interim, they’ll patiently wait their turns, rubbing their hands with anticipation as Romney takes the fall for their future dreams.
Thank you for reading my work these past months. As I mentioned above, you can always get in touch with me at my email address as listed on that grim internet parking lot that is Google+. Feel free to drop me a line. Looking forward to seeing you all in our various future endeavors. -CEC
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For the final time, my thanks to Gage Skidmore, who took the photo in this article, for all his excellent work and generosity.
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