Political Animal


August 27, 2012 9:10 AM Romney and His Race Card—“What Are You Going To Do About It?”

By Ed Kilgore

Regular readers of Political Animal should find this analysis of Mitt Romney’s stretch-run strategy and message, as articulated by Thomas Edsall in the New York Times, very familiar:

The Republican ticket is flooding the airwaves with commercials that develop two themes designed to turn the presidential contest into a racially freighted resource competition pitting middle class white voters against the minority poor.
Ads that accuse President Obama of gutting the work requirements enacted in the 1996 welfare reform legislation present the first theme. Ads alleging that Obama has taken $716 billion from Medicare — a program serving an overwhelmingly white constituency — in order to provide health coverage to the heavily black and Hispanic poor deliver the second. The ads are meant to work together, to mutually reinforce each other’s claims.

Edsall, as you may recall, has been suggesting for a good while that this is the sort of politics the Tea Party Movement is all about.

So that’s the most important sense in which the Romney campaign has finally surrendered unconditionally to the Right: not simply accepting its political positions or promising to make its priorities his own, or placing on his ticket their favorite politician—but also adopting its meta-message about the kind of people Obama represents (those people) and the kind of people who are suffering from his redistributionist ways.

It’s clear by now that the Romney campaign is going to shrug off the almost universal denunciation of his welfare ads (and to only a lesser extent, his Medicare ads that show a white senior frowning as the narrator says ObamaCare is “not for you”) as a pack of despicable, race-baiting lies—or use the so’s-your-old-man argument that Obama’s campaign tactics justify his own. If nothing else, his wizards probably figured out some time ago that the “welfare” crap offered a rare opportunity to hit notes equally effective with “the base” and the non-college educated white voters who make up a high percentage of this election’s “swing.” Add in the thick armor conservatives have built for themselves against any accusations of racism—now, almost by definition, they believe only liberals are racists, and only white people are targets of racism—and it was probably an easy call for Team Mitt, particularly since truthfulness is not a factor at all.

The Romney campaign’s attitude seems to be that of the famous nineteenth century rogue William (Boss) Tweed, who when confronted by journalists with his misdeeds, said: “Well, what are you going to do about it?” Romney’s not going to be shamed out of his unsavory tactics. But on the other hand, if his gambit fails, not only will his presidential ambitions perish once and for all, but just maybe the kind of politics he has come to exemplify—rich people encouraging the middle class to “kick down” at “those people”—will take a hit as well.

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.


  • JMG on August 27, 2012 9:16 AM:

    It won't fail. Racism, greed and fear create majorities in this country

  • Mikhail on August 27, 2012 9:30 AM:

    If you had asked me, oh, five years ago, that the next two Republican candidates were McCain and Romney, I would have jumped for joy. McCain was a war hero, an immigration reformer, a campaign-finance reformer, the exact sort of man who could reach across the aisle and get things done. Romney had a thinner biography, but he was governor of a Northeastern, liberal state and established the first Universal Health Care in the country, again, a compromising, technocratic man. I *liked* both of them.

    But in their campaigns, first McCain, and now much more Romney, seemed to be running away from their past in favor of becoming the most noxious sort of politician. It's worse than frightening. It's just... disappointing.

  • TT on August 27, 2012 9:34 AM:

    Mitt Romney will not be a legitimate president, he will certainly not be my president. He is a risible, soulless, greedy tax cheat who would sell his own children into slavery if it made him a buck or pleased the GOP base. One cannot by definition assassinate his character, for he has no character to assassinate. He lies while lying about his lies, then lies while lying about the lies he just lied about. Should he somehow steal the presidency through mass voter suppression, Senate Democrats ought to proceed with the ultimate nuclear option and refuse unanimous consent to proceed with anything, be it legislation, appointments, reconciliation, etc.

  • dweb on August 27, 2012 9:40 AM:

    Why are you surprised at this?

    Romney's camp signaled from the beginning that they had no problem twisting the truth and lying and then ignoring criticisms of their practices. As evidence, witness the doctored video that seemed to show Obama saying, "If we talk about the economy we lose", when in fact Obama was quoting John McCain during the 2008 campaign.

    When confronted with the clearly doctored editing, Romney's team replied, "He said it."

    Add to that Eric Fehrnstrom's casual statement that anything Romney said during the primaries was essentially pixie dust because after that you just "shake the Etch-a-Sketch" and start over.

    Throw in a few thousand flip flops and you see a man and a campaign with no moral compass and no scruples. He'd make a truly great president.

  • JR on August 27, 2012 9:41 AM:

    Wonderful moment this AM on Morning Joke when Chris Matthews called out Reince Priebus on this very thing... As the GOP chair went wide-eyed, denying any such intent, Matthews difn't even bother to conceal his contempt. The entire panel was quite uncomfortable. Sadly, atom Brokaw, who should know better, stepped in to save the day, saying there was no racial intent. Nevertheless, by the last shot of his face, Priebus knew he'd been pwned.

  • James M on August 27, 2012 9:51 AM:

    I am a little more optimistic than the previous posters. I think the race-baiting is a major strategic blunder on the part of the Romney campaign and not even tactically smart. The reason I bring up tactics is that race-baiting and dog whistling require a very light touch that I just don't think Mr. Romney has.

    To be a good race-baiter you have to be slicker than silk and be able to pronounce 'Negro' so that is sounds like...you know what! Politically Mr. Romney is a '30,000 feet' type politician. Lots of vague and lofty statements about free enterprise and America's place in the world and its uniqueness and exceptionalism. He lacks the down-home demeanor, the in-depth knowledge of working class America, the ability to artfully convey a hidden message when you are really talking about something else, and just the necessary plain 'orneryness' to pull this off.

    This argument could be shortened to saying that a rich prep school and Harvard-educated Wall-streeter is not going to morph into George Wallace over the next 2 months and he shouldn't try!

    BTW, watch MSNBC's Chris Matthews tear into RNC chairman
    Reince Preibus (was he born with a sneer?) on this topic in the short 'Morning Joe' segment below:


  • stormskies on August 27, 2012 9:53 AM:

    Our fellow citizens who 'believe' these lies are people whose 'reality' is already constructed of total delusions, lies, and deceptions because of what they 'believe' actual reality to be. So of course the evil buffoon called Romney lies to them because they need to be lied too.

    The sad truth is that a vast amount of our fellow citizens are simply stupid. It is indeed on of the most stupid populations of people on this Earth. 20% percent of our population 'believes' the the Sun actually revolves around the Earth, another 50% 'believes' the the Earth is less than 10,000 years old in which humans co-mingled with Dinosaurs, less that 25% accept the natural law of evolution, 65% can not even name who our current vice-president is. Just for starters. They is no other population of peoples on this Earth that are this stupid.

    And, at the same time, 30% are morbidly obese, another 40% simply obese. Such a nice picture and examples of our American 'exceptionalism', eh ?

    Throw into this an utterly corrupt corporate media that creates the propaganda who intentions are in fact to benefit the corporate bottom line: profits. So we end up with all the corporate hired 'pundits' who create the spin and lies necessary in order to benefit the corporate bottom lines. Thus, we end up with people like David "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory, et-al, who have been made millionaires themselves by the corporations who hire them to do their bidding, creating the corporate/ Repiglican spin that only confuses the already stupid American voter.

    The very polices of the Repiglicans are in fact the policies that lead to the almost total economic collapse of our country, and much of the world. Those policies are the ones who hurt the typical white person the most including the 'low information voter' which includes all those blue collar, uneducated, white voters. And yet here we are with those very same voters who want to elect Romney/Ryan and the Repiglicans. You just can't get more fucking stupid than that.

    We are, indeed, United Stupid America. And the evil of Romney/Ryan is that they know this and thus lie and deceive in order to realize their own ambitions. They rationalize this of course thru the evil psychology of the 'end justifies the means'.

  • dr2chase on August 27, 2012 9:59 AM:

    Dear White Middle-class voters,

    Have you noticed that the guy with the bank account in the Cayman Islands, who hung out in France during the Vietnam War, is blaming the blacks ("them", "those people") for your problems? They'll say anything to get elected.

    These rich guys want to invest YOUR social security money in THEIR stock market -- run the market up using your money, cash out, leave you holding the bag when it comes time for retirement. They plan to replace guaranteed Medicare benefits with vouchers -- if not yours, then your children's. If the voucher's too small, too bad for you; you're supposed to haggle with the insurance company, not them.

    Their only plan is to run up the debt like they did with the last Republican presidency, cut their taxes, cut your services, and then hand you the bill. Maybe they'll start a war with Iran to keep us all distracted while they do this.

    A DFH for Obama.

    Is it really that hard?

  • Celui on August 27, 2012 10:08 AM:

    Let's see: restructure an opponent's comments to reflect anything we want, distortions aplenty about any social issue so that it can serve to divide the nation's electorate, call on the latent economic and racist tensions that have not yet been addressed successfully, claim indignation at the opposition's programs by lying about them, disavow any intent to divide when called on the lie, and just plain pander to the most vile and base of human emotions--the loss of what people consider 'theirs' at the expense of 'the other.' Does this, in any way, sound historically like post WWI propaganda techniques in Europe? Find a scapegoat, beat the public over the head with this hateful bile, and then claim that it's true because we said it was. Journalism then, as now, permitted this kind of lying to go unchallenged for the most part. Big difference in today's political arena: superpac money can continue to run their Big Lie(s) unabated because the nine "United Citizens" have made it so. Money rules the airwaves, and the money's lies are--at least now--taking center stage. I look forward to Obama rediscovering his tent revivalist voice pretty soon.

  • Anonymous on August 27, 2012 10:10 AM:

    it's also the old against the youth, too. sometimes it's urban women against old fashion men.

    But it's actually the uneducated against the educated. The sad thing is that it's middle class against middle class/poor. the middle class and the poor will never get together and go against the rich.

    the truth is that wealth can be multiplied if we all work well together, rich, middle and poor, through private and public investments and communities and individuals.
    Too many liberals and conservatives talk as if wealth is limited and one group taking it from other groups.

    The rich getting richer does not necessarily make the poor poorer. The blacks getting richer does not mean the white getting poorer. China getting richer does not mean US getting poorer either.

    we are so stupid to think like this. Jealousy is not rational.

  • Diane Rodriguez on August 27, 2012 10:15 AM:

    As Romney becomes more and more desperate, his messaging has dropped all pretense. Women, people of color or anyone not in the top 1% of earners are either distasteful to him or chumps. If you are a bigot and/or stupid, you are already voting for Romney and have embraced him for being a soulless tool.

    I believe the path to an Obama victory lies in getting people registered to vote and getting those voters to the polls. Romney is actually doing all the messaging work for Obama to ensure women, people of color and a lot of white people are on his side. Overcoming voter repression is the key.

    Romney's arrogance and overreach may well be his downfall. The media had played a huge part in this travesty and deserves a loud and painful "reckoning" to quote Doc Holliday in Tombstone.

  • c u n d gulag on August 27, 2012 11:11 AM:

    Boss Tweed had many, many, faults.

    Many are the same as modern day Republicans.

    He was greedy, selfish, and egotistical.

    One thing he wasn't, was incompetent. Another thing he wasn't, was unintelligent.

    You don't have to be the brightest bulb on Broadway, and people will still put up your with many, many, faults - if you're competent.

    Sadly, that's the 2nd to last word I'd use about Republicans.

    The last one, is "intelligent."

  • delNorte on August 27, 2012 11:19 AM:

    President Lincoln, in an attempt to unify the country and avoid a Civil War, said this in his first inaugural address:

    "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

    The Romney campaign is doing the exact opposite: pandering to the worse angels of our nature. If he succeeds, and is elected by doing this, it will not bode well for this nation.

  • Zinsky on August 27, 2012 11:23 AM:

    Romney is a contemptible, low-life man who wouldn't hesitate to play the race card. I don't give a crap how much money he has in off shore bank accounts. Someone up thread beat me to it, but if by some fluke this reptile gets more electoral votes than Obama, before he even takes office, progressives should spit on him, fling dog shit and rotten eggs and tomatoes on him and just utterly humiliate and de-legitimize him from Day One. Enough pussy-footing around, go after him and smear him and not even speak to him until he is impeached and hounded from office!

  • PTate in MN on August 27, 2012 11:34 AM:

    "Add in the thick armor conservatives have built for themselves against any accusations of racism; now, almost by definition, they believe only liberals are racists, and only white people are targets of racism..."

    The Nixon Southern strategy has proved itself an effective vote-getter in many elections now so it is easy to worry about its effectiveness. And this crazy up-is-down Republican claim that "we're not the racists, you're the racists!" is crazymaking. So one does worry that the race-baiting strategy on display right now--ads that claim that Obama is pandering to lazy (black) welfare queens and that "Obamacare isn't for you, whitey"--will achieve their objective of motivating support by frightened white people. But, I think, that strategy is getting harder to pull off.

    It isn't just that a larger percentage of the electorate are people of color. Many whites in the target market are not as racist as the Republican elite count on. American society, even in the south, is no longer Mississippi, 1972; the base line for hardcore racism is around 18-25% among whites in general (vs about 100% in the Tea Party). Romney-Ryan's target market then is that 25%-40% of whites who are not necessarily racist but who can be manipulated to vote Republican via such ads. However, given a strong backlash to these ads (keep it up, Kilgore!), given reassurance that a vote for Obama will not result in oppression of white people by lazy, up-to-no-good black people, I think the strategy will backfire. Too much in the Romney-Ryan policies (end Medicare, privatize social security, criminalize abortion, block effective contraception, tax cuts for the uber-rich and raising taxes on the middle class, energy policies to enhance global warming) are unpopular with Americans. So the strategy may have a short-term impact, but long-term, it won't work.

    The challenge is to get the word out there. Billions of dollars are being spent to confuse and deceive voters and discourage them from voting. We are up against a ruthless cabal and a delusional, mean-spirited political operation, so our work is cut out for us.

  • Quaker in a Basement on August 27, 2012 11:37 AM:

    "...maybe the kind of politics he has come to exemplify—rich people encouraging the middle class to “kick down” at “those people”—will take a hit as well."

    Oh, it'll take a hit allright. About as much of a hit as you'd make spitting at a hurricane.

  • tom on August 27, 2012 11:50 AM:

    The pressure on Romney on the issues of class -- the tax returns, the bain decisions, the america the beautiful ad, followed up with the pressure on reproductive rights have been making victory unattainable to Romney. The desperation behind a strategy that depends on getting 61% of the white vote is obvious. However, when you lose women by the numbers Romney is projected toward getting, what percentage of white men do you have to get to still win? While white racial resentment is strong, it gets weaker all the time. He is running a 1980's campaign thirty years later. It is desperate and it will lose.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on August 27, 2012 11:58 AM:

    Where the hell are the media corporations in this, so utterly addicted to the campaign cash that they whore themselves out to run demonstrably false ads?

    Yeah, I know, I'm being naive here. I'd like to see sponsor boycotts of anyone running Mitt's lies, just to get the right-wingers to spend twice as much on junk they don't want.

  • Kathryn on August 27, 2012 12:03 PM:

    Chris Matthews was on fire I have to say and while Brokaw interupted unhelpfully, he made some good points though of course he had to play the both ways meme. Priebus is such a weasel he even tried go play the European card in defending his hideous campaign. One point, obvious point really, that Matthews missed was pointing out that Affordable Care Act was modeled after Romney's own Massachusetts plan not any European plan.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on August 27, 2012 12:14 PM:

    @Diane Rodriguez:

    "I believe the path to an Obama victory lies in getting people registered to vote and getting those voters to the polls. Romney is actually doing all the messaging work for Obama to ensure women, people of color and a lot of white people are on his side. Overcoming voter repression is the key."

    Great points, and this encourages me greatly. It's here where Obama's leadership style really turns into execution, which is really a lot like governing as President anyway. It's why he beat Hillary in the first place. Unless the Romney campaign improves greatly, race-baiting ad blitzes and disenfranchisement are really his only hope.

  • Kolobian on August 27, 2012 1:10 PM:

    Yes, R-money is being unfair but I don't get why Obama didn't just wait to make that change, anyway. Doesn't he realize, he has to walk on eggs, fair or not?

    (Sorry about previous misspelling of that vaunted star planet, before.)

  • Kathryn on August 27, 2012 1:19 PM:

    Doing a lot of voter registering in N. Va., had a young woman come over to our table Saturday and after finding out we were from local democratic district, told us she usually voted republican but not this year as she goes to Planned Parenthood and can't believe the nonsense going on about PP and contreception. Here's hoping she's the tip of a very large iceberg.

  • Anon on August 27, 2012 3:06 PM:

    Not to go all Godwin on y'all, but the GOP has developed the most powerful propaganda machine that Western society has seen in 80 years.

    Our traditional media has no idea how to stand up to it. We are in dangerous times.

    That we've faced things like McCartyism is trotted out as a sop to suggest we'd never go that far again. But we are, it's happening now, only in more subtle, Frank Luntz focus-group tested ways.

    A free press willing to speak truth is essential to standing down the propagandists. Look to the 30's and not just the economic upheavals that were happening, but also the communications changes and shifts in social networks that were happening then.

    I think we can't see inside our own moment that the tectonic shifts under us are comperable in magnitude even if the feel different than what we see in grainy BW film reels of old.

  • Anon on August 27, 2012 3:14 PM:

    ETA: didn't read Celui at 10:08am before my own Godwin bit.
    Glad (well, not the right word) that I'm not the only one seeing the propaganda parallels.

  • samg on August 27, 2012 3:44 PM:

    Too bad Ed doesn't answer Boss Tweed's question -- "What are you going to do about it" -- because he can't. The Democrats, unfortunately, have no adequate defense against this kind of stinking Republican racism. Now if the Dems had a powerful talk radio machine, like the Reps do, they could make dirt out of Romney and Ryan, those two friendly white multi-millionaire racists. ancheno 5668But they don't. The Democratic candidates don't even seem to realize the power of this attack. Too bad. This could lose the Dems the election.

  • pjcamp on August 27, 2012 10:51 PM:

    Are you kidding?

    When Romney loses, the meme will be "the wrong guy was at the top of the ticket. If only it were Ryan/Romney we woulda won."

    The Republican party today is in the situation the Democratic party was in the mid 70's and it will take as long for them to recover.