Political Animal


September 24, 2012 12:55 PM Why Conservatives Are So Antsy About Mitt

By Ed Kilgore

At Salon, Steve Kornacki mulls over one of the odder features of this presidential contest: the constant sniping and fretting among Republicans towards Mitt Romney’s campaign. Steve, in fact, thinks Mitt is in danger of becoming one of those major-party nominees—the most recent being Bob Dole—to be semi-abandoned by the movers and shakers in his party, who shift their money and attention to down-ballot contests.

[A]s the frustration and panic of conservative opinion leaders grows, the Romney campaign has an extra incentive to try to look like a winner. Over the next few weeks, Republican campaign committees, outside money groups, fund-raisers, and down-ballot candidates will make bottom-line judgments about Romney’s standing that will affect how they allocate their money and how they treat Romney in their messaging.
The risks for Romney are two-fold. One is the simple appearance problem. It’s one thing for the other party to claim that a presidential candidate is flailing and running a poor campaign; that’s standard fare. It’s different, and more problematic, when the media and political world joins in this conclusion - something that Romney has been dealing with for the past few weeks. And it’s even worse when the candidate’s own party joins the chorus, as is also the case for Romney now.

Steve attributes the bad feelings towards Romney to the belief that he ought to be doing a lot better given current economic conditions. In other words, Mitt hasn’t successfully executed the obvious “economic referendum on the president” strategy. That may be true for some GOP critics, but as regular readers know, I think something quite different is going on: a sizable segment of the conservative commentariat is determined to make this not a referendum on the economy—which they view as little more than a symptom of a deeper and more fundamental national loss of direction—but a referendum on the last half-century or so of American public policy and culture.

And why wouldn’t they feel this way? How would you want your presidential candidate to campaign If you thought (a) America’s current fiscal and economic problems are the natural and inevitable product of the New Deal and Great Society legacy, whose costs and impositions on the private sector have been disguised and kicked down the road for decades; (b) American society has descended into semi-barbarism, with widespread infanticide, irresponsibility and moral relativism rapidly eroding the foundations of every successful country in history; and (c) that Barack Obama is the living embodiment of a sinister coalition of elites and helots consciously if deceptively determined to transform the United States into a place past generations and today’s seniors would not recognize? Would you want your candidate to make his entire pitch “are you better off than you were four years ago”? Hell’s no!

So long as Romney looked like a better than even bet to win in November, conservatives were willing to let him deceptively campaign as a bland technocrat with the power to convince wealthy investors and “job-creators” that he’d make their bottom-lines the be-all and end-all of his presidency, getting the economy out of its doldrums and administering some tough-love to bureaucrats and welfare beneficiaries—you know, a nice, safe bracing tonic of the sort that the occasional conservative government is supposed to be good at providing. But if he’s not going to be a slam dunk, conservatives want him to run their kind of campaign, producing their kind of mandate, which is all the more essential because they don’t trust Romney in office as far as they can throw him.

I suspect it’s this highly contingent commitment to the kind of campaign Team Mitt is running that is at the bottom of the highly contingent conservative commitment to the candidacy itself. And I also suspect the shakiness of the entire GOP coalition this year—ironic given the endless talk of Democratic discouragement and division earlier in the cycle—that is responsible for the frantic spinning of many Republican writers and talking heads who fear the wheels will fall off if victory looks doubtful.

Romney hasn’t yet encountered the kind of angry “do this, don’t do that” crowds that afflicted John McCain in October of 2008. But he’s probably just a couple a weeks away from that if his poll numbers deteriorate much more, and/or if economic conditions continue to slowly brighten, making the “referendum” campaign that much less persuasive.

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.


  • bigtuna on September 24, 2012 1:12 PM:

    McCain, in Oct., 2008, did some campaign stops in truly odd places. So, if, like McCain, Romney starts showing up at fly in fly out gigs at places like Central Wisconsin Aiport, and giving pathetic speeches in the gray fading light outside of Mosinee, WI, put a big fat fork in him... Are the down ballot people even scheduling events with him, or does that not even happen anymoree in any context?

  • BillFromPA on September 24, 2012 1:22 PM:

    Another apparent comparison between Dole and Mittens is that, as near as I can recall, Dole actually took a 'vacation' from the campaign at pretty much the thick of the battle, but also at the point that he was pretty much toast. Mitt's tin-ear responses to all his missteps and his insistance that he doesn't need to re-boot tells me that he's just going through the motions. Perhaps it's the arrogance of those to the Manor Born showing through, but I think Mitt is willing to only go so far, to strive just so much and no more for this prize, and he's reached his limit. I actually wish he'd show a little more fight so the Big Bucks wouldn't abandon him, only to fall down-ballot.

  • c u n d gulag on September 24, 2012 1:24 PM:

    The danger is that the money that was earmarked for Romney and Ryan will go down ticket, as the Republicans desperately hope to keep the House, and keep the Democrats from having close to 60 seats in the Senate.

    And money spent locally is much more effective than spending it on national ads.

    They are, and will continue to be, committed to Obama's and the Demcrats failure, even if the country ends up a smoking ruin.

    Party over country!

    If their fever ever does break, it won't be for a few more elections.
    And by then, not only might it be too late for them, but for the country as well.

  • Steve LaBonne on September 24, 2012 1:30 PM:

    I'm less worried than c u n d gulag. The big money boys have financed a mind-boggling barrage of ads against Sherrod Brown here in Ohio, but the money appears to be pretty much wasted- they've barely laid a glove on him. (It helps that Josh Mandel is an even more pathetic candidate- and human being- than Romney.) Elections may not be quite as buyable as we feared, especially if almost all the money goes to idiotic ads that people quickly learn to tune out rather than to the ground game.

  • Ronald on September 24, 2012 1:41 PM:

    Couple of observations.
    1) Ryan got booed at an AARP event
    2) Teapers have been chomping at the bit for 'more red meat' from Romney. They didn't get fed at the convention, they aren't being fed now (since Mr. Romney is in fire-fighting mode). When they are not fed at the debates, expect to hear more wailing and gnashing of teeth
    3) Right leaning pundits, moreso than those on the left, seem to want to engage in the 'I told you so' sort of thinking as soon as they possibly can. Lefties have a tendency towards 'navel gazing' in regards to over-analyzing what when wrong, but at least there's genuine analysis and not this feeling of 'rats abandoning a sinking ship'
    4) GOTV > PAC$

  • Anonymous on September 24, 2012 1:42 PM:

    "(c) that Barack Obama is the living embodiment of a sinister coalition of elites and helots consciously if deceptively determined to transform the United States into a place past generations and today’s seniors would not recognize?"

    You forgot to mention the most important parts of the sinister coalition, which Obama is the living embodiment of: blacks and other minorities. He's mixed race - that's even worse if you think about it. Black father right out of Africa, white mother (yikes!). And of course is identified by his policies with the other unmentioned and also highly threatening members of the sinister coalition: gay people. They even apparently have an Agenda, for pete's sake.

    Oh - I always thought helot meant someone from hell or something like that, but for any other misguided readers out there:


    1. a member of the lowest class in ancient Laconia, constituting a body of serfs who were bound to the land and were owned by the state.

    2. a serf or slave; bondman.

  • Bo on September 24, 2012 1:43 PM:

    The MittWit is finding out that he no longer resembles the old adage that "nothing succeeds like success".

    Today, it's more like he's as unwelcome as "a turd in the punchbowl".

  • c u n d gulag on September 24, 2012 1:47 PM:

    Steve LaBonne,
    The Conservative Plutocrat's have got the ground game covered.

    Between Ralph Reed's GOTV efforts with Evangelical Christians, voter suppression and "True the Vote" which will contest people coming to vote in Democratic areas, and other efforts by the Koch Brothers to GOT Conservative Voters, we can't afford to get complacent.


  • boatboy_srq on September 24, 2012 1:49 PM:

    The business GOP, and the congressional GOP leadership, seem to want Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (disinterested figureheads), and the Teahad wants Ferdinand and Isabella (pious, bloodthirsty zealots). Either way, "President" and "First Lady" seem to be rather alien to the titles the Reichwing would prefer to bestow, and given the Rmoneys' collective response to campaigning (all the "you people" and "this is hard" and "47%" comments dropped so far) that seems just fine with them.

  • emjayay on September 24, 2012 2:18 PM:

    Anonymous a few comments up is me.

  • Doug Moran on September 24, 2012 2:19 PM:

    Wow. If that's the case--and it makes a lot of sense--then the Tea Party/Right-wing base is even more self-deluded than I thought. Almost all of those issues have absolutely horrendous poll numbers nationally, and those polls would tend to indicate that if Romney did run on those social red-meat issues, he'd get crushed.

    It amazes and saddens me that so many people in this country can be so deluded.

  • jomo on September 25, 2012 9:53 AM:

    Good post. It continues to amaze me that conservatives put up the facade that "if only a true conservative with the right values were running, the American people would jump at it" - but only after it appears their candidate seems to be losing. If anything Romney has been too conservative on the campaign trail - yet if he loses he will go down as "insufficiently conservative".

  • KarkAwark on November 15, 2012 11:06 AM: