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April 03, 2012 9:28 AM “Nobody Really Believes Mitt Romney”

By Ed Kilgore

Roll Call’s Stu Rothenberg is not someone often accused of “liberal bias” or a thumb-on-the-scales in favor of Democrats. So his latest column, illustrating Mitt Romney’s chronic credibility problem as a product of his supporters as well as his detractors, is especially interesting. Perhaps I like it because he’s making a point I tend to obsess about but that is rarely made in bland assessments of Romney: the candidate has been moving as rapidly to the right as he can even as his image within the GOP has moved left. That shows the rightward velocity of the GOP, particularly since 2008. But it is also means that GOP voters are constantly aware of Mitt’s endless repositioning efforts, including moderate Republicans who happily vote for him because they assume he’s lying to the hard-core conservatives who increasingly dominate their party:

For years, ever since he started running against Sen. John McCain for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, Romney has tried to position himself to the right. In fact, four years ago, he succeeded in positioning himself as one of two conservative alternatives (the other being former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee) to the Arizona Senator.
The exit poll from the Florida GOP primary on Jan. 29, 2008, when McCain narrowly beat Romney, 36 percent to 31 percent, and Huckabee came in a weak fourth, showed Romney rallying Republican conservatives who could not accept McCain…..
This cycle, Romney has run right again, to establish his conservative credentials, but he has not been successful. Instead, each and every week, he has performed best among the same voters who chose McCain over him four years ago — and he has done least well among those demographic groups that supported him in 2008.
Romney’s great problem in the GOP race, as pretty much everyone has already observed, is that conservatives don’t really believe that he is one of them….
What’s interesting about Romney and his supporters is that, despite his conservative rhetoric, moderates and country club conservatives continue to support his candidacy.
Think about it. Romney, who stresses his opposition to abortion, talks tough on immigration and rules out a tax increase even to help cut the deficit, continues to get the support of pragmatic conservatives who reject former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s ideological rigidity, thought Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) was too conservative and viewed Texas Gov. Rick Perry as a bomb thrower.
Clearly, establishment Republicans also don’t believe Romney when he talks about his views and his agenda. If they did, they probably would feel about him the same way they feel about Santorum or Bachmann.
Romney’s great asset is that these voters figure he is merely pandering to evangelicals and the most conservative element of the GOP when he talks about cultural issues, immigration and taxes.
The bottom line, of course, is that nobody — not his critics and not his allies — really believes Mitt Romney.

And that’s among Republicans.

For all the differences in personality and background, that’s why I’ve always thought of Mitt as the New Nixon. He may succeed politically because people with money figure he’ll do what it takes for him—and them—to win, because he’s a safer bet than his opponents, and even because people are cynical enough about him to assume he won’t let principles get in the way of doing things the country obviously needs. But (with the obvious exception of LDS folk) he’s not going to inspire much of anybody, and can ascend to a victory over Barack Obama only on the dark wings of an exceptionally nasty negative campaign reinforced by disheartening external events.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • Ckelly on April 03, 2012 9:44 AM:

    I think Bill Maher's description of Romney as a shape shifter was spot on. What a fake fraudulent phony candidate

  • Danp on April 03, 2012 9:51 AM:

    Sounds to me like the etch-a-sketch strategy works quite well among Republicans.

  • rea on April 03, 2012 9:53 AM:

    "Vote for me. Yeah, yeah, I know what I said--but of course, I'm a well-known liar"

  • crumbled blue cheese on April 03, 2012 9:57 AM:

    And "merely pandering" is not a good trait. Plus everyone has seen him do it endlessly as this campaign goes on. Even Fox News has pointed it out.

    Shorter version--people are tired of Mitt Romney.
    And a lot of fact checking has taken place signifying him as someone who lies, and cannot be trusted.

  • John on April 03, 2012 9:59 AM:

    If you're a moderate, pragmatic Republican, who else is there than Romney? I guess there was Huntsman early on, but he ran a terrible campaign, was uniquely ill-placed to have any appeal at all to conservatives, and has been out of the race for months. If you're an "establishment Republican" or a "country club conservative", what else are you going to do but support Romney?

  • Chris on April 03, 2012 10:02 AM:

    I think the Romney/Nixon comparison is interesting in that they both probably don't care about domestic policy and will go along with whatever Congress and popular opinions want. We don't know if Romney will violate multiple ethical and moral lines in the pursuit of power, but one thing we do know is that Nixon had foreign policy chops, and Romney doesn't.

  • T2 on April 03, 2012 10:10 AM:

    I think you are underestimating the influence of LDS in the general. They have, in the West, the same influence on elections as the Evangelical vote in the South, and like the Evangelicals, do not hesitate to insert plenty of politics into the weekly sermon, either directly or suggestively. They don't like blacks much either. Romney is where he is as a result of LDS influence, take it away and he fades like a two week rose. Couple that with Big Money trusting him because he is Big Money (unlike Santorum) and you see why, despite the fact he is a very poor candidate/politician willing to change course every day, he's gonna get the nod. The GOP had an alternative in 2008 in McCain and they gave him the nomination over Romney (who is the same Romney they have today). They just don't have an alternative any more.

  • BillFromPA on April 03, 2012 10:15 AM:

    My concern is that, come Oct., the electorate will have internalized Willard's lying and it will become an accepted, irrlevant non-issue. The lying b@stard is probably innoculating himself from his own dishonesty.

  • Kathryn on April 03, 2012 10:23 AM:

    So who will he be should he win, at heart , if one can suggest an actual heart beats in Romney's chest, he's a corporate man to his core, but the rest of the GOP is controlled by right wing radical zealots who detest modernity in the form of public education, women's equality, the federal reserve, raising debt ceilings, religious freedom, save the elevation of official Christiandom, etc. He will owe them, and a right wing religious loon running mate is just the down payment.

    I predict that within months of his elevation to the presidency, all these chickens will come to roost, so a war with Iran could be just the distraction needed to bring their facist base to heel, John Bolton will be happy to oblige. The race is between sanity and insanity, can Romney and his lies and non stop negative TV buys essentially purchase the presidency as he has the nomination?

  • jhm on April 03, 2012 10:35 AM:

    Do not miss this:

    A Quantum Theory of Mitt Romney:
    http://t.co/0LSZAQ74

  • Robert on April 03, 2012 10:44 AM:

    "If you're a moderate, pragmatic Republican, who else is there than Romney?"

    This question says all that needs to be said about Romney's tactics. REPUBLICANS NEVER WILL VOTE FOR OBAMA! and they are unlikely to stay home in a presidential year.

    Given his wealthy and conservative background, I believe Romney lied his way into the Massachusetts State House and implemented as many conservative programs as he could get away with. Any moderate independent that votes for Romney is a fool and will be even more frustrated, should Romney win, than liberals have been with Obama.

  • bluewave on April 03, 2012 10:54 AM:

    You think these characterizations by Rothenberg, et al, hurt Romney. I think they're doing their best to HELP him, same as they did with Bush. Republicans spout radical agendas, the media assures us the Repubs aren't REALLY that nuts, they're just ACTING nutty to appeal to their nutty supporters. On the strength of this, they get elected, and proceed to govern in ways that ARE really that nuts, but we don't have recall votes or no confidence votes in this country. Plain and simple, the media enablers are trying to assist Willard with his pivot to the center.

  • schtick on April 03, 2012 11:20 AM:

    Stop and think, if it wasn't for the instant news we have now, Willard could say what he wants, when he wants and where he wants and most people wouldn't know the difference. As it is, with the tealiban spouting out and out lies over the years and projecting so much, most people believe "they both do it" so they choose the liar they like. The people that have their heads in the sand and listen to Faux Fake and BS Newz and/or Druggie Rush still believe the lies.
    I lay the blame where it belongs, on Congress and the right wing Supreme Court. The gutting of the Fairness Doctrine by Congress and Citizens United paved the way. That Faux won their court case allowing them to lie yet still call themselves "fair and balanced news" is a joke not only on the people of this country, but the court in general.

  • John on April 03, 2012 11:40 AM:

    Given his wealthy and conservative background, I believe Romney lied his way into the Massachusetts State House and implemented as many conservative programs as he could get away with.

    What exactly are you talking about? Romney's father was on the Rockefeller wing of the party. He walked out of the 1964 Convention because he couldn't swallow Barry Goldwater. He said that the generals "brainwashed" him to support the war in Vietnam. He marched in civil rights marches. He was obviously still a Republican, and conservative on some issues, but it makes little sense to me to describe Mitt as having a conservative background. And what, exactly, are the conservative policies Romney was implementing in Massachusetts?

    Romney's background means it makes a lot more sense to view Romney as someone who is naturally pretty middle of the road (as his father was), but who is willing to do whatever it takes to get elected. In Massachusetts, that meant tacking slightly left. Then, starting in 2005, when he started to imagine running for national office, he tacked to the right, and has continued to tack right as the Party moves that way. The idea that Romney was a stealth conservative all along makes very little sense to me.

    That doesn't mean that Romney is a stealth moderate who will jettison all the conservative stuff if he becomes president. He's made his bed with the conservatives, and if he becomes president he'll have to lie in it. And there's little evidence that Romney cares enough about any particular issue that this would even be unpleasant for him.

  • Anonymous on April 03, 2012 12:09 PM:

    The "moderate, pragmatic" Republicans are another way of say the business class. What matters to this group is that government serve business as well as reflect the views of business. In other words, what we got with Bush II. Romney may be more socially conservative than the typical business class member, but the real reason that he is running for President is to protect the interests of business. This is what the business wing of the Republican Party believes and it is why they support him. Romney and they fully understand that the social conservatives must be pandered to in order to win office and advance the ends of business. If winning office could be done without discussing social conservatism, the business class, including Romney, would do this. Some business party members share the social conservative agenda, but others do not. What should matter here is that Romney be seen by the general electorate as an extreme example of the business party. This is the real Mitt Romney and he cannot hide very far from it.

  • Robert on April 03, 2012 12:31 PM:

    John, I don't believe Mit is 'moderate' like his father at all. I believe he is, like many political sons (we had one for president recently), out to prove that he is better than his father at serving the interests of his class. That's 'what I am talking about', John. You want to believe he is his father's son? Your picnic.

  • crumbled blue cheese on April 03, 2012 7:40 PM:

    Don't forget to read "Sh*t Santorum Says"--many articles and opinion pieces are at santorumexposed.com
    A kind of relief from reading about Romney as far as how merciless this blog is with Santorum.
    Pennsylvania ousted the man. And the articles never stopped.

  • boatboy_srq on April 04, 2012 9:09 AM:

    @Robert 4/3 12:31 pm

    In comparing Mitt to George Romney, and following on the earlier comment: when viewing sons of political fathers and assuming some valid comparison, all I can say is:

    George W. Bush.