A Right Old Dilemma: Which Not-Romney?
With Rick Santorum’s suspension of his campaign and effective withdrawal from the primary, where does that leave those Republicans who remain bitterly unconvinced of Mitt Romney’s ability to win the election, let alone govern in a sufficiently wingnutty way to pass muster among the base?
Most of the attention I’ve seen has focused on Newt Gingrich, last seen screwing up yet another state campaign by bouncing a check for $500 at Utah’s Elections Board and leaving nobody home to answer the subequent enquiries about it. Thus demonstrably clueless, reportedly at least $4.5 million in debt, with no sugardaddy to bail him out nowadays and next to no ground game, but still pledging to run all the way to Tampa, Gingrich claims the suitably ironic mantle of “the last conservative standing.”
After Rick Santorum ended his White House bid on Tuesday, Ron Paul’s campaign praised the former Pennsylvania senator, but said Paul did not have plans to follow suit.
“Congratulations to Senator Santorum on running such a spirited campaign. Dr. Paul is now the last – and real – conservative alternative to Mitt Romney,” Jesse Benton, Paul’s campaign chairman, said in a statement.
The oldest swinger in town still has game, as his campaign airs a new ad in Texas which is a bit of a hoot.
If you can’t watch it right now, CNN’s Political Ticker offers a handy summary:
The ad, called “Vote Texas,” begins with an announcer laying out the options for Republicans: “Let’s get this straight. We’re debating between a big spending, debt ceiling raising fiscal liberal, a moon colony guy, a moderate from Massachusetts or a Texan with a real plan to balance the budget.”
The slam against Gingrich – that he’s the “moon colony guy” – comes with a “Photoshopped” image of the former House speaker in a space suit, floating around the moon.
The announcer continues, pushing Paul’s platform of reigning in spending and slashing the federal debt.
“Get with it people, only one candidate will stand up for Texas. Ron Paul isn’t playing games. Five federal bureaucracies gone. A trillion dollars cut, year one. Get Washington off your back,” the announcer says before labeling the candidate a “big, bold Texan.”
The assertion that Paul “isn’t playing games” is supplemented with an image of an Etch A Sketch, a reference to a March remark from a Romney campaign aide that the GOP frontrunner would shift focus in the general election.
The reaction to Santorum’s withdrawal from most of the right’s various online organs has so far been muted, no doubt partly because of its own inevitability, and perhaps a little because his daughter Bella’s illness may have played a part in its timing.
“Well the Republican establishment got its way,” Levin said. “The Republican establishment has won yet again. Some of you are very upset about it. Some of you are self-delusional — not many. Some of you are thinking, ‘Well, what you mean? This is conservatism.’ No it’s not. Just because you’re not Obama doesn’t mean you’re a conservative or a constitutionalist.”
But instead of dwelling on the pros and cons of Romney, Levin encouraged his listeners to focus on defeating President Barack Obama in the upcoming election
Rush Limbaugh, ever verbose, observed:
What was always striking to me about this Republican primary is that the establishment set out from the get-go to shore up the moderates first, to win this nomination with moderate Republican votes, not conservative Republican votes.
I had trouble focusing after that among all my boggling about what the campaign so far would have looked like if the “Republican establishment” had decided to veer rightward, but Limbaugh’s thesis is that after the Tea Party successes in the 2010 midterms, political logic would have dictated that a rising star from that faction of the Republican Party would emerge galloping to lead them to triumph in 2012:
It was then thus expected that a Republican presidential nominee would arise from this vast movement and give a leadership face to the Tea Party in the person of whoever would adopt those policies and garner that support. And then that person would go on to become the nominee and then continue on the basis of ideas and ideology the same things that secured this massive landslide victory in the midterms in 2010 into the general election for president this year. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the Republican establishment made no effort to secure the support of the Tea Party and instead stayed within itself and opted to secure the nomination with a strategy that emphasized moderate candidates over conservative candidates.
This of course ignores the fact that the Tea Party’s approval among the general population has plummeted since 2010 and that its unruly influence in Congress has not proven a great success for the party, to say the least. It’s not that this approach wasn’t tried by the likes of Cain, Bachmann, Perry, and Santorum, and is still Gingrich’s main schtick when he’s not playing the professor, but that the individuals who have tried this tack proved deeply flawed, either on a personal level or as campaigners. And since most of the early debates focused predictably on the easy meat of Obama-bashing and blatant or dogwhistle pandering to the base, by the time the gloves came off and the surviving candidates set about each other to prove their more-conservative-than-thou credentials, the primaries were in full swing and these ideas and the appeal of their proponents were tested at real polls, and often found wanting.
And then there were the policies themselves. Although some candidates took turns to pay lipservice to the Tea Party’s supposed anti-big government/big money agenda, once the 2010 intake of Tea Party-approved candidates entered Congress, they proved much like any other politicians already there, just a little noisier and even crazier. What was left for the primary campaign largely consisted of the old reliable wedge issues isolating sectors of the electorate, saddling the GOP with a large deficit in support from obscure and unfathomable sectors of the population. Like women and Hispanics, for instance.
What of those who have been most vociferously opposed to Romney? Is being the great “Not Obama” going to be enough? I think we all expect a majority of the GOP base to swing behind the eventual nominee, though probably with less than wholehearted enthusiasm. A lot will hinge on who fills the VP spot, and what that signals not just about those whose votes Romney values and wants to court, but what his campaign perceives as its own weaknesses. But it’s going to take a lot of pandering to win over the hardliners if the current atmosphere at Free Republic is anything to go by. In among the perpetual fundraising drive, Jim Robinson’s in no mood for compromise:
No matter who wins the nomination or the election, we’re going to need FR more than ever to hold their feet to the fire. We’re hoping for the tea party rebellion of 2010 to continue in November 2012. It’s unlikely that we’re going to have a conservative in the Presidency, but if we can continue taking state governments, build on our majority in the House and retake the Senate, we may be able to make some headway anyway. We must repeal ObamaCare/RomneyCare and roll back the out of control unconstitutional Marxist central government!! We must return the real power to the states and the people as the Founders intended!!
We are the resistance!!
Long live the tea party rebellion!!
Never forget your begats. Romney begat RomneyCare, RomneyCare begat ObamaCare, ObamaCare begat the Tea Party. The Tea Party will begat (or win back) our Liberty IF we stick to our guns!!
And more memorably:
Shove it down our throats today, we shove it up your donkeys in November!!
At this late date, at a minimum, I’d still prefer Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, and anybody who came out of a brokered convention over Mitt Romney. That’s because Mitt’s not a conservative, he was a mediocre governor, I don’t really know where he stands on any issue, and I think he is below average in electability. There’s not much of a point to continuing to hammer that message home after today since Mitt has it all but locked up, but it’s worth noting there were a lot of more conservative, more electable candidates in the race whom the GOP establishment helped to methodically beat down in order to clear a path for Romney.
Still, as Donald Rumsfeld might say, you go to war with the politician you have, not the politician you might wish to have — and I have always said, from day 1, that if it came down to Mitt and Barack Obama, I’d prefer to have Romney in the White House.
Since he mentions a Donald, we shouldn’t forget those Romney has so far enlisted as campaign surrogates—Ann Coulter and The Donald himself among them. No shortage of loose cannon there. Santorum has not yet endorsed Romney and would make an awkward surrogate, but has vowed to “keep fighting” in the mission to get Obama out of the White House.
If Romney does tack to the center once his nomination is confirmed, then endorsements from voices such as Santorum’s, Newt if a deal can be done that brings him on board, and even Ron Paul in the unlikely event that he also capitulates to inevitability in return for some sweetener (though past form makes me think he’ll just keep plugging away as long as he can), will have to be finely balanced between reassuring the base that all is not lost, and scaring away those in the middle—and other voter blocs which have been reviled and insulted during the campaign so far—without whom this election will not be won.
And let’s not forget all the wonderful oppo research and campaigning materials Romney’s opponents have amassed, which will surely resurface throughout the rest of the year to form a heady mix with the Obama campaign’s own efforts. If that Ron Paul campaign video above is anything to go by, there may still be more fun to come from the Gingrich and Paul camps as they try to retain relevance, gain sops to their agendas, and “keep Mitt honest.”
Jim Robinson’s resolution above is echoed on other RW sites, where columnists and commenters are deciding to focus on Senate and House elections in the absence of their dreamboat candidate prevailing. Since without a working majority in Congress any presidential win will be rather pyrrhic, that’s something Democrats and those on the left shouldn’t lose sight of either.