Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The GOP conjures up a candidate

Rebutting the notion that Mitt Romney is winning the GOP nomination because his rivals failed to put together professional campaign organizations, Conor Friedersdorf argues that Romney faced no viable competition, but rather a crew with "glaring substantive flaws."  Well, sure. But why did Romney face no viable competition?  The current state of the GOP allowed no "better" candidate to emerge.

If Mitt Romney didn't exist -- and in his current incarnation, he didn't, until circa 2005 -- GOP voters would have had to invent him.  In fact, they did invent him. Forget the Etch-A-Sketch: he is the Ouija board of the GOP base.  Whatever position they collectively demand, he adopts.

If Republican voters are reluctant to back Romney , it's because he caters simultaneously to contradictory desires.  Collectively, the party wants to seem moderate enough to win without compromising far-right fantasy positions.  Romney can perhaps win because people don't see him as an extremist: he had a moderate record as governor, preceded by a long successful career in a field that demands pragmatism and a respect for data, which he credibly claims to possess.  And yet he is sworn to advance every jot and tittle of an extremist agenda: deficit reduction without tax increases or defense cuts, foreign policy without negotiation, dismantling of Obamneycare, broader defenestration of the federal government , defunding of Planned Parenthood, reversal of Rove v. Wade, ruthless hounding of undocumented aliens out the door.

Projecting moderation while professing extremism is quite a trick, and Romney may perhaps grasp the brass ring. But he makes everyone uneasy.  Moderate Republican voters, of whom there may be more than meet the eye, may worry that President Romney will be captive to a GOP Congress beholden to the base.  Tea Party types may worry that he'll shake the Etch-A-Sketch again when dancing to a different piper, the general electorate and/or a divided Congress. No one, in any case, likes a liar, and people across the political spectrum know that Romney lies from sunup to sundown. Democrats know that nothing he says about Obama is true; conservatives know that nothing he says about his past positions and actions is true; and moderates know, or should know, that he's betrayed them to the base.

Any viable non-extremist prospective GOP candidate would presumably have had to either do as Mitt did or lose. That's why he faced no real competition.

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