Political Animal


September 27, 2012 1:10 PM Mitt Didn’t Change Fast Or Far Enough

By Ed Kilgore

If you want to understand the recent, present, and probably future direction of the conservative movement and its wholly owned subsidiary, the Republican Party, it’s important to understand how thoroughly and rapidly it has engineered a revolution in the GOP, now that dissent from The Truth is ill-tolerated. A useful way to get a grip on this phenomenon is, of course, to look at Mitt Romney’s efforts to accommodate himself to the ever-changing zeitgeist. Sometimes you get the impression that Romney was this solid moderate Republican the day before yesterday, and only became “severely conservative” in this cycle. But as Steve Kornacki reminds us today at Salon, Mitt started repositioning himself to the right a long time ago—just not fast and far enough:

Romney began making moves toward a White House run nearly a decade ago, shifting away from his moderate Massachusetts roots and positioning himself to meet the national GOP’s various ideological tests. The Massachusetts healthcare law was to play a key role in this self-reinvention. It would give Romney a major bipartisan gubernatorial achievement, burnish his credentials as a forward-looking leader (and not just a simple pandered), and give him a huge general election asset - a universal coverage law that he could use to deflate the inevitable Democratic attacks about his lack of compassion and to stir hope among voters that he knew how to accomplish Big Things.

So Romneycare was not a legacy of RINO moderate heresy (you have to look back at the things he said during his 1994 Senate race against Ted Kennedy to find a lot of items that send conservatives completely over the wall), but a token of then-prevailing conservative orthodoxy. For two interlocking reasons—the decision by conservatives that any efforts to achieve universal health coverage were inherently “socialistic,” and the strategic decision to oppose everything proposed by Barack Obama as a step down the road to totalitarianism—Romney’s positioning turned out to be wrong. It’s worth remembering that his most serious “true conservative” rivals for the nomination, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, made similar mistakes.

In Romney’s case, however, this mispositioning has been especially fateful because it knocked the props from beneath his slender record of accomplishment, as Kornacki notes:

When Obama embraced RomneyCare and the GOP embraced reflexive opposition, it left Rommney with nothing to say.

And that’s where he is today, alternating between a failing “economic referendum on Obama” message and serial broken promises to lay out a positive agenda that isn’t the Ryan Budget with a side dish of Christian Right cultural extremism. If there was a Bain Capital for politicians, it would probably tell Mitt he needs to blow it all up and start over.

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.


  • stormskies on September 27, 2012 1:30 PM:

    Good, then he can be a vulture to himself .... hmmm

  • c u n d gulag on September 27, 2012 1:33 PM:

    NOOOOOOOBODY expected the Conservative Inquisition!

    If he does lose, as it looks like he will, it will all be hung on Mitt (and, hopefully Ryan), since Conservatism can't be failed - you can only fail Conservatism.

    And I suspect they'll try to relaunch Tea Party II "Just Don't Call This My Obamacare Motorized Scooter Boogaloo," in 2014, and go for some "crazy" in 2016 as their Presidential candidate.

    A lot can happen in the next 4 years, but I think, while their fever won't break, it may be broken for them - by voters.

    Afer 2016 (I'll be surprised if it's before), they'll have to reasses where they're at, as far as state and national elections.
    Districts may still stay crazy enough to vote for Republicans, as will towns and counties, but the country as a whole, will have moved on from wedge issues and the hate and fear that they're meant to bring to the forefront.

    Eventually, "Divide and Conquer" will conquer again - only this time, it will conquer them.

  • Ronald on September 27, 2012 1:35 PM:

    There's still, even now, a part of me that is amazed that he was even nominated.
    Yeah, yeah...I know...best in show among a pack full of mutts and money money money...but it just still seems amazing to me.
    Thinking about it, I guess I'm so used to an amazing 'message discipline' from the Republican side (right or wrong, they all used to stick together) that now that the wheels are coming off in all directions it seems even more amazing.

    Mr. Romney is done. There is nothing and nobody that he can 'reinvent' himself into this late in the game. Every mask has been tried on. His 'real self' is a Republican apostate, and he just can't seem to bring himself to get beyond that damned smirk when he tries to be the right-winger everybody (including the right wing) knows he isn't.

    It is sort of like the whole 'polling' thing that's come up recently, and the intentional ignoring of reality that goes along with it all. The kool-aid has been watered down to nothing.

    (and the stupid captchas have gone back to damn near unreadable again!)

  • Ron Byers on September 27, 2012 1:37 PM:

    How did we reach the point where the Republican party is batshit insane? Who designed this mess? Did it just grow up like Topsey?

  • dweb on September 27, 2012 1:53 PM:

    Vote for me. I'll create 12 million new jobs.

    OK....you convinced me. Now, where do I have go to get a Voter ID?

  • Justin on September 27, 2012 1:56 PM:

    If there was a Bain Capital for the Romney campaign, they'd tell them to rack up massive debts and loans, continue fundraising as much as possible, liquidize the remaining assets and cash out just before the election, and then declare bankruptcy.

  • Bokonon on September 27, 2012 2:36 PM:

    How about they just reinvent themselves as a bunch of ruthless SOBs that will really HURT the nation if they don't get what they want?

    You know ... "Vote for Romney ... or else! Or else our gang will shut down the government for four years! And offshore your jobs, foreclose on your house, take away your car, and make you weep like a little girl!"


  • SecularAnimist on September 27, 2012 2:38 PM:

    Ed Kilgore wrote: "If you want to understand the recent, present, and probably future direction of the conservative movement and its wholly owned subsidiary, the Republican Party ..."

    What you need to understand is that the so-called "conservative movement" and the Republican Party are both wholly-owned subsidiaries of Koch Industries.

  • Mitch on September 27, 2012 2:49 PM:

    @Ron Byers

    "How did we reach the point where the Republican party is batshit insane? Who designed this mess? Did it just grow up like Topsey?"

    I always figure that it is because the GOP has been pandering to the lowest common denominator for decades. Yeah, plutocratic conservatives have always played the uninformed masses like a string quartet, but this time-honored strategy is beginning to work against them. They've gone after low-hanging fruit to gain votes, but now their apple cart has been upset by all of the weight.

    The Conservative movement spent decades courting the hyper-religious folk of the Bible Belt (Abortion! Homosexuality! Immorality! Christian Nation!), pandering to the tin-foil hat paranoid "libertarian" crowd (Big Government Bad! They want your guns! United Nations!) and infecting our society with non-stop alarmist, divisive rhetoric at max volume (Socialism! Welfare Queens! Apology Tour!). And, of course, trash mongers like Limbaugh, Beck and O'Reilly cheerfully throw gas on the fire like drunken frat boys.

    The plutocrats who ruled as nobility for centuries, adorned themselves during the Gilded Age and contemplated the Business Plot coup against FDR love to herd the uninformed masses by playing on peoples' fears and resentments. They need the support of the "lower classes" for both political and economic reasons (and to keep the guillotine away). So, throughout all of human history, plutocrats have gained and maintained power by manipulating as much of the population as possible.

    But we're a republic, where people's votes actually matter. Big Money conservatives didn't realize what this could mean to their party—all they knew was that such a strategy got them the votes they needed. Of course, conservatives seldom seem to contemplate the effects of their actions.

    And, over the past few electoral cycles, traditional "Business Republicans" have been replaced by the totally uneducated, the terrifyingly theocratic and the raging reactionaries. Instead of being content to supply votes for the plutocracy, the GOP base decided to vote themselves into power.

    2010 and the Rise of the Tea Party were the results of the GOP's constant appeals to the ill-informed and the worryingly dogmatic. This is making the GOP more and more extreme, and it's not likely to change soon. Zealots (whether religious or political) do not change their minds, or become moderate, because they lose. The only real hope is that the next generation of Republicans rediscover sanity and the necessity of compromise in a republic.

  • mb on September 27, 2012 3:21 PM:

    I did not expect this election season to be quite this enjoyable -- or to have such positive outlook. Here's hoping it continues to be so.

  • Mimikatz on September 27, 2012 3:54 PM:

    One problem the GOP has is that by glorifying greed it has attracted a much greater number of grifters than the Dem Party. They all try fleecing their big and little donors who want to think they are in on the con. But they forget that the mission of a political party is to win elections. They can't make course corrections because they are trying to validate and vindicate an ideology. Sooner or later the saner business types will switch to the Dems, corrupting the Dem Party. The crazies will be a regional rump party.

  • Francis Volpe on September 27, 2012 4:39 PM:

    Doesn't anybody remember 2008? Conservatives were bellyaching that the RINO McCain was getting all the breaks and that we needed a TRUE conservative GOP candidate, somebody like Mitt Romney! McCain blew his opposition away early and by the time of the CPAC conference in 2008, Romney's speech to the group was his concession speech. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. Then it was McCain's turn to talk, and the organizers specifically told the audience not to boo McCain. They did anyway.

    Comes 2012 and suddenly it's Romney who is the RINO. Which he probably would be if he didn't have to pander to these ADHD sufferers posing as principled conservatives.