Well it appears that the Republican nomination process, which had so much interest and promise at the start has devolved to the same old name calling divisive tactics we’ve grown to expect from the current crop of conservatives.
Romney is outspending his rivals at the rate the three or more to one, and still can’t seem to close the deal. That’s because he continues to remind the working class voters he is wooing that he is a rich country club guy. He offers Perry a gentleman’s bet for $10,000 in an attempt to call Perry’s bluff. He claims not to be worried about the poor. He defends the personhood of corporations. He says he likes firing people. He disingenuously pretends to sympathize with those who have been laid off while defending policies at his own company which laid off thousands. He claims to understand the needs of Michigan while at the same time defending his op ed which called for the government to let domestic auto manufacturers go bankrupt. He demonstrates his support of GM by declaring that his wife drives “several Cadillacs”. He tries to reach out to the NASCAR crowd by showing up at an event and then admitting that his only connection to the sport is that some of the wealthy folks who own some of the cars are friends of his. He even manages to upset dog owners by defending his mistreatment of the family pooch. Finally he defends his wealth saying that if someone has a problem voting for a successful (read wealthy) person, they should vote for somebody else.
Socially conservative Republicans have taken his advice to heart and ARE voting for somebody else.
The problem is that the “somebody else”, at least in the form of Rick Santorum, is even crazier than Mitt.
Santorum has done the impossible (contending for the Republican nomination) by giving voice to the unspeakable (the deep biases of social conservatives). He took advantage of a bad Gingrich debate performance in Florida to leapfrog Newt in the “anybody but Mitt race”. Gingrich was counting on Florida being the knockout blow for Santorum which would allow Newt to become the sole standard bearer for the conservative vote. Instead, Santorum is filling that role because he has been willing to take public positions that are even more radical than Newt. Now that’s saying something.
Santorum is proposing nothing less than a religious take-over of government. This has allowed him grab the radical right standard from Newt and take Mitt on in the celebrity death match that social conservatives have been waiting for.
The Republican establishment can’t believe their eyes. This is their Frankenstein nightmare. The Tea Party that they used to gain a House majority in 2010 has turned on them with the full force of self-righteous fury.
“It makes the party look like it isn’t a modern party,” Rudy Giuliani told CNN’s Erin Burnett, fretting about the candidates’ Cotton Mather attitude about women and gays. “It doesn’t understand the modern world that we live in.”
After a speech in Dallas on Thursday, Jeb Bush also recoiled: “I used to be a conservative, and I watch these debates and I’m wondering, I don’t think I’ve changed, but it’s a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people’s fears and emotion rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective.”
Alan Simpson, the former Republican senator from Wyoming, recently called Santorum “rigid and homophobic.”
Arlen Specter, who quit the Republicans to become a Democrat three years ago before Pennsylvania voters sent him home from the Senate, told MSNBC: “Where you have Senator Santorum’s views, so far to the right, with his attitude on women in the workplace and gays and the bestiality comments and birth control, I do not think it is realistic for Rick Santorum to represent America.” That from the man who accused Anita Hill of perjury.
The fact that Romney eked out a slim victory in Michigan over Santorum really doesn’t matter.
What matters is that the social conservative Tea Party wing of the Republican Party continues to reject Romney. If you add up the votes for Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul – Romney lost Michigan.
The Republican social conservatives may not have enough votes to win the nomination for Santorum, but they do have enough influence to force Romney into a very difficult choice. If he hopes to unify the party, he is going to have to move so far right that he becomes unelectable in November. Some are saying that this has already happened.
If he abandons the conservative wing of the party, they may run their own candidate (Sarah Palin) or become so disgusted with the nominating process that they stay home in November. It also doesn’t help Mitt that his backers in the Republican establishment continue to whine that they don’t have a more likeable guy like Jeb Bush or Mitch Daniels to turn to.
At least in Michigan, Santorum effectively poisoned the water for Romney in the fall already with a simple question which Romney never answered. Why did Romney support the Wall Street bailout while opposing the auto bailout? This wasn’t lost on Obama either, who gave a barn burner speech to the UAW in Washington on the same day that Michigan voted and asked the same question. If Romney does eventually win the nomination, you can bet that this question is going to continue to be asked all the way until the vote in November. That’s because it cuts right to the heart of why people just don’t trust Romney.
In the meantime, this primary continues to grind at the fabric of this country. The claims against the President become more and more extreme. Gingrich who managed to skip Vietnam calls Obama “the most dangerous President in modern American history” because he is “incapable of defending the United States.” Perhaps Newt missed the headlines about bin Laden, al-Awlaki, or the scores of other al Qaeda leaders that have been killed or captured. That sort of language may work with the Republican base, but it is going to alienate mainstream voters who still possess a sense of fairness.
Obama may end up with an easier victory this fall than he anticipated, but he will have to deal with an even more deeply divided country than when he first took office.