Political junkies like me almost always believe in one immutable law of campaigns: Candidates move to the right (for Republicans) or the left (for Democrats) to win the party faithful in the primaries, but move back to the center in the general election to win moderate and independent voters. Tod Kelly explains why Romney hasn’t followed that pattern in this campaign:
Of all the presidential elections I have ever witnessed, this is by far the strangest – and Romney’s campaign is the most obviously troubled. Think of all of the moves he has made over the past couple of months, long after having shored up the Republican nomination: He picked Paul Ryan, the darling wunderkind of the far right of his base, and he felt forced to do it way too early. He’s advocated preemptive war against Iran. He traveled to Europe and insulted them, then travelled to Israel and insulted the Palestinians. He’s gone above and beyond to paint himself (fallaciously, in my opinion) as the most socially conservative guy in the room. And now he seems poised to double down on his 47% gaffe, regardless of how it plays out to that part of America that doesn’t get its news from FOX, Limbaugh or Beck.
In other words, he is working his ass off to make sure that the base of his own party is willing to vote for him in November – even though he’s running against an incumbent his party views as the anti-Christ, in a bad economy with high unemployment.
Has this ever happened before in the modern-media age? Has a major-party Presidential candidate ever had to focus so much energy on getting his own party to be willing to vote for him? Last November, I would have bet you many rounds of top-shelf scotch that by now the GOP’s candidate would have been tacking to the center so hard and fast he or she would be breaking all kinds of land-speed records. But ironically, the only electable candidate of that entire bunch may turn out to be the least electable of all, because his party’s base doesn’t trust him enough to let him tack anywhere but further right. (And trust me on this – after attending last weekend’s Values Voter Summit I can assure you that the base does not like Mitt Romney, and they do not trust him – at all.)
But this is symptomatic of the situation the Republican party is increasingly finding itself in after 2010, when they made the decision to try to harness the energy of the Tea Party movement. It worked in that election, leading to a huge swing toward the Republicans at every level of government. But the celebration was far too early, for reasons I pointed out at the time and have continued to advocate for the last two years. By doing that, they also backed themselves into a corner.
They put a lot of Tea Party types in Congress, especially in the House, and then found that they couldn’t control them very well. It pushed the party strongly to the right, not just in rhetoric but in actual governing too. And when they actually started passing laws, especially at the state level, they got the inevitable reaction. That’s why Republican governors that were swept into office by riding the Tea Party Wave, like John Kasich and Rick Scott, are now very, very unpopular in their home states.
The problem they have is that they cannot appeal to the hard-right base of the party and to independent voters at the same time. They simply can’t. And as the Latino demographic grows and public opinion shifts even further toward equality on LGBT issues, it’s only going to get worse. The Republican party is facing some monumental choices that they can’t avoid, and either road they take will make it harder to form a winning coalition. They’ll eventually find a way to make it work, but there’s going to be some serious infighting along the way. And I’m stocked up on popcorn.