For quite some time, I’ve been of the mind that no matter how mad hatter the GOP primary became, and whatever fits the GOP base went through, they would ultimately, if reluctantly, settle for Mitt Romney, the way they settled for John McCain in 2008. I’m starting to change my mind.
It’s not just the persistence of Romney’s 22-25 percent stall in the polls. No matter what poll you try, Romney can’t seem to get above that ceiling. But there’s something else going on that make me wonder whether it’s even possible for Romney to recover. And it is this: the Republican base is refusing to accept their irrelevance. The tea party no longer matters in the general marketplace — though they are still clinging to relevancy in the Republican party. The fringies on the right are turning on each other (see here, too.) The tea party wing of the party has careened from one wack-job candidate to another, from Donald Trump to Herman Cain and now to Newt Gingrich, and in doing so they have left Romney only two places to go: the Wall Street wing of the party, which he already has, and the evangelicals, who, let’s face it, he really cannot have.
The older, white, cloth-coat conservatives who make up the ground troops of the Republican Party need their catharsis. They need to have their abject hatred of Barack Obama exorcised, and they need someone to march behind who will wage the fight in the dirtiest way. They need to make Obama pay for daring to become president of “their” country, and they need him expelled. They almost don’t care who replaces him, or what quality of man he is, so long as he is “one of them,” and can articulately (or what passes for it in the Beltway) express their rage, and go toe-to-toe with Obama on stage without making himself, and them by extension, appear stupid. Especially after Dubya, they’re real sensitive about appearing stupid (which is why Rick Perry can’t come back.)
Romney can’t win that battle, because with his patrician nature, ostentatious wealth (though c’mon, baggies, he doesn’t have a half-million dollar revolving account at Tiffany’s to please his third mistress-wife, or $37 million in government lobbying lucre in his portfolio) … he clearly “isn’t one of them. Newt isn’t one of them either, frankly, but his grandiosity and rhetorical bomb-throwing means he’s unlike them in the way that another rich guy: Rush Limbaugh, is “not like them.” He is enough like them for now, and there are parts of the base that want to stick it to not just Obama, but to the Republican establishment, by putting an unstable, grandiose, political version of El Rushbo in the White House.
And there’s this: I think the reason Newt is doing well despite his obvious faults, is because whatever you think of his flip flops and his character flaws, if you’re a right winger, Romney seems at least to like you — to like the person you are. Mitt? Not so much. Mitt seems to be using you to get what he really wants — to be president — the way he once used moderates and even liberals, in order to get to be governor or Massachusetts. Right wingers may not be the most science-driven lot, but they can tell when someone really isn’t down for the cause.
To the polls.
First off, ignore this one. The idea that Gallup/USA Today would be taken seriously with a poll of 71 Colorado voters and like, two dozen people from New Hampshire, based on comparing 2008 demographics to the demographics post 2010, when really no underlying demographics changed at all, but the “electorate” changed because the brown people sat it out, is bad enough. But Gallup has warned you away from their own poll with this:
Republicans have given more thought to the election process so far in swing states and nationally, and they are more likely to say that who wins the election will make a difference to the country’s ability to solve economic problems. This may reflect in part that Republicans have the only contested primary for the 2012 election. Whether Democrats start to focus more on the election once the Republican nominee is known will begin to give an indication of Democrats’ ability to re-create the strong involvement they manifested in the 2008 election process.
In other words: of course Republicans are paying more attention. They’re the only one with a primary. So if you weight your sample in their direction, you’ll get rather predictable results…
To another poll:
The latest NBC/WSJ poll shows four in ten Americans consider the current congress the worst ever. Makes you wonder if the other six in ten are living in states that have already legalized weed …
And as is predictable, the two GOP front-runners, such as they are, have two very different problems. Mitt’s is with the base, Newt’s is with everybody else:
Romney faces a challenge with the Republican primary electorate, trailing Gingrich nationally by 17 percentage points as nearly two-thirds of Republicans view him as either liberal or moderate.
Gingrich, meanwhile, faces a challenge with the general electorate, as half of all voters say they wouldn’t vote for him in November, and as he trails President Barack Obama by more than 10 percentage points in a hypothetical contest — compared with Romney’s two-point deficit versus the Democratic incumbent.
“Romney has not caught on [with Republican voters],” says Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. “And Gingrich is so deeply flawed.”
…According to the poll, Gingrich, the former House speaker, is the first choice of 40 percent of GOP primary voters — the highest percentage any Republican presidential candidate has received in the party horserace so far.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, is the first choice of 23 percent of Republicans. He’s followed by Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 9 percent, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann at 8 percent, Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 6 percent, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman at 5 percent, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum at 3 percent.
And the majority of Republican voters could describe their presidential field as “meh…”
And again, there’s not much Romney can do to make himself seem more than “meh” to the base. Ron Paul can do it with his built-in base. Newt can do it with the tea partiers. I’m not sure I see anymore who’s left for Mitt.