Reince Priebus is on the wagon. The RNC chairman’s days of drunken violence and crude behavior are behind him. Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and the faux conservative uprising of 2010 has been duly defeated. The TEA Party is a memory and so is all of the ugliness of Paul Ryan and debt ceiling debates. Revolution and upheaval has been replaced with spin-with-the-wind business lingo; the framing of national debate best figured by pinpoint polling results. This is about quiet opposition and bland rhetoric—gone will be the religious pronouncements, social reconstruction or fatalistic demagoguery. Show time, folks, is over. The return of Rockefeller Republicanism is back.
Mitt Romney’s machine has crushed the soul of Conservative politics, strategically engineered by Priebus and his party cronies to manipulate the general electorate come fall. It has been a steady slog, interrupted slightly by messy voting and nose-holding support from those who naively misread the 2010 mid-term elections as some kind of binding grassroots anti-government sentiment, the way the Left was sure the 2008 elections put the kibosh on the prior eight years of geo-political, big government overreach.
The Republican Party is not in the business of changing or challenging or creating serious opposition to the status quo. It wants a healthy slice of the status quo and its titular representative, the head of its aims, is Willard Mitt Romney, a 65-year-old moderate ex-governor and mediocre corporate raider with comportment from central casting and an amazing ability to live not only above the fray of most pressing national issues, but outside any true ideology. He is a political automaton created to be the face and breadth of a political party—easily molded and coachable. His debate performances, although mildly uneven and malleable, against fairly ferocious debaters in the primary season was a testament to his ability to shift and parry. His post-primary speeches, strikingly general election orientated, rang the bells Republican leaders needed rung; “You don’t like this, neither do I, and I’ll stop it.” No details, no plans, no direction, but up.
Anyone who thinks this horribly weak model is not a good national election candidate is working on a short memory. Bill Clinton comes to mind, a centrist candidate with a fairly moderate gubernatorial record, bobbing and weaving his way through primary gaffs and faulty rhetoric. Of course, Romney is no Clinton in the sense that his charms fall more on the muted side, if there are charms at all, but this is the perfect anecdote if you are going against the Rock Star President, Joe Cool—who is well liked to the tune of over 70 percent, despite nearly the same number believing he and his policies stink to high heaven; an interesting balancing act that only Ronald Reagan was able to pull off in 1984.
The Republican establishment might not have enthusiasm, glitter and pizzazz on its side, but it knows that this year that’s bullshit. Glitter and pizzazz straddled the party with Sarah Palin, one of the most damaging characters that hit the national stage in over half a century; a truly vacuous polarizing gasbag, who while exciting the base scared the living shit out of the crucial Independent vote and handed vital states like North Carolina, a Republican stronghold, over to Barack Obama.
This time the polls, although hardly a trustworthy measuring stick in the past two presidential election cycles, have been steady for months. Even with the complete obliteration of the Hispanic vote and a major shift among women voters, the Independent stronghold for Obama in 2008 has continued to wane without halt. Depending on the poll, more Right Wing pollsters decide the Independent vote comes in at 45-37 in favor of Romney, but more balanced have it at 47-45, which is spot-on for a fairly non-threatening economic-centric (bland and steady) candidate to keep, if there are no Sarah Palin screw-ups.
But social, gender and independent voting blocks aside, this is not technically a national election (ask Al Gore), but a gathering of electoral votes throughout 50 diverse states of varying districts, social constructs and economic realities. Think, for instance of Michigan, a state for which Romney and the Republicans have rightfully determined is a goner, whether its candidate publicly decried its subtenant business existence during the auto bailouts or not. But Pennsylvania, a Democratic bedrock for decades, is in play. The party had figured as far back as January during Priebus’ booze-addled hiatus, that Santorum was going to follow-up his 2006 senate re-election bid trouncing by failing to win his home state, a state he would likely cough up in November. If Romney is the candidate the party thinks it has bargained for, Pennsylvania and even Ohio could be taken.
This is the only way Romney can win. While national sentiment and modest Independent support is a given, the electoral map is not friendly territory, and only a non-factor candidate can change that.
Right now, Republicans poll miserably in the swing states, as well as many of the states not guaranteed to the president—meaning that if the economy does not improve and/or unemployment doesn’t dip into the mid-sevens, a scarecrow with enough money could put dents into this reality. This was never going to happen with Santorum or Gingrich or the bevy of misfits before them. According to Republican thinking—this time around—is that cold strategy, not passion, wins the day. Passion was 2008, and what Republicans want is to forget that year and the economic collapse its party helped create and the resultant big-government stimulus that ultimately averted it.
What in late 2007 this space described as a detriment, could very well be a winning element in 2012.
“Watch Romney speak some time. Really watch him. The eyes dart spastically, the brow furrows, his speech patterns falter and then queer altogether. He often looks like the boy who has just realized he’s lost in a department store; that eerily suspended moment of panic-clarity before the freak-out. Romney has that look right now as he blurts out the phrase “moral convictions” every thirty seconds to keep from convulsing. I half expect a reptile to explode from his rib cage at any moment.” – MITT ROMNEY – DON’T ASK – DON’T TELL – Issue: 12/12/07.
This was our coverage of a speech Romney delivered trying to separate his Mormon faith from that of his legitimacy for the presidency, the kind of speech that makes religious stalwarts like Santorum ill, but makes strategic sense. It was something Romney and his advisers felt he had to do in 2007, but now rings as hollow as Romney himself. This is economic times, not a time for “moral convictions” to which Barack Obama wins in almost any poll conducted.
It is the year of the tortoise and the hare, in which the Republicans will paint the president as a celebrity good-guy whose charisma has failed to unite, galvanize and “change” this nation or more importantly this government over his first term. That, and only that, and whatever unforeseen happenstance may happen this summer, will give the Republicans a chance to do what five years ago seemed like a goofy pipedream—control the two main branches of the government again, as it did in 2000, when the nation had a surplus and thought itself impervious to international attack.
In other words, the salad days for Republicanism, before the Bush/Rove/Cheney people hijacked it with so-called anti-Republican nation building and non-funded government bloating.
A state-by-state, statistical strategy devoid of purpose or direction, beyond winning the White House, will transform Mitt Romney’s weakness into strength.
James Campion is the Managing Editor of TheReality Check News & Information Desk and the author of Deep Tank Jersey, Fear No Art, Trailing Jesus and Midnight For Cinderella.