Political Animal


November 19, 2012 9:43 AM The Man Who Couldn’t Whistle

By Ed Kilgore

Much of the weekend political “news” involved serial Republican efforts to bury Mitt Romney far below the surface of future visibility, mainly on grounds that he has created the outrageous impression that conservatives look down on certain elements of the population.

Now it’s true that Romney may long be remembered as the guy who so ineptly described the people who voted against him as non-taxpaying parasites in two separate discussions with wealthy donors. But it’s richly ironic that he’s being attacked by hard-core conservatives for a heresy that is central to their own world-view. Mitt struggled so hard for so long (roughly the five years after he began to seek the 2007 nomination as a “true conservative”) to do and say whatever “the base” wanted. But his background disqualified him from being the kind of authentic voice of white middle-class resentment of the poor and minorities and their “elitist” allies that comes naturally to a Sarah Palin. And he never quite learned how to make vicious appeals to the worst instincts of Americans via dog whistles, either. So conservatives are in effect now excoriating him for pandering to them in a counterproductive manner.

Since his political friends never liked or trusted him to begin with, it’s no surprise that in the cruelest example of our winner-take-all system, Romney went instantly from being on the very brink of unimaginable power to becoming chum to be thrown to unhappy partisan sharks who are looking for an excuse not to blame themselves or their ideology.

Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith put it this way:

[F]or all the reasons that Romney is easy for Republicans to forget, he offers them thy ideal sacrifice. Conservatives were always too fond of Barry Goldwater to write him off as the “extremist” Democrats successfully cast him as; they never liked Mitt Romney anyway, and will gladly remember him for his most odious comments.
There is an irony that Romney, the moderate, will be forced to carry off Todd Akin’s baggage on reproductive rights; Joe Arpaio’s on immigration; and James Dobson on gay rights. But when he cast popular policies as “gifts” to Obama voters (ignoring both his and Obama’s expensive promises to older voters), his decision to, as Bobby Jindal put it, “insult” the demographic groups who are a larger part of each successive electorate offered the Republicans the pivot they had been looking for toward presenting a younger, more diverse, and more inclusive party.

I’d amend that final thought to read: “a younger, more diverse and more inclusive party without having to change its actual ideology.” The “pivot” conservatives are looking for is to find pols who are immensely better than Mitt at walking the tightrope between base and swing voters, and who can convince others (and maybe even themselves) that they are representing not a vengeful constituency of aging white reactionaries, but the wave of the American future.

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.


  • Ronald on November 19, 2012 10:03 AM:

    "I’d amend that final thought to read: “a younger, more diverse and more inclusive party without having to change its actual ideology.”"

    It is, indeed, this sentence that pretty much wraps the whole issue up.

    And also, then, the crux of the Republican problem- the 'lipstick on a pig' issue...trying to make the platform that they enthusiastically endorsed (and forced on a plastic Romney-bot) seem less odious than it really is.

    Question for you Ed, given that you've an interesting history with the Democratic party: Did the progressives have this same issue 'back in the day'- where Democrats blamed the messenger and not the message? I'm wondering if this sort of thing is endemic to politics, or just a problem with the current Republican party.

  • T2 on November 19, 2012 10:03 AM:

    I've offered this theory before...and I'm still not convinced that the Conservative hierarchy didn't offer Romney up as a sacrificial lamb in an election they knew they were going to lose. There is simply no affection for Mitt in the GOP, yet it appeared as though he was going to keep running for the nomination forever...until he got it. Now, he's gone for good and the knives have come out. But then, the GOP had no viable alternative candidate anyway. The unintended side effect, however, was revealing darling Paul Ryan as dishwater.

  • stormskies on November 19, 2012 10:04 AM:

    How about these cretins dealing with the fact that all of them, including the buffoon and sociopath Romney, have created a fictional reality that is devoid of facts ? And how that fictional reality is sustained via things like Fox Fiction and all the right wing rapid radio talking heads like pig Limbaugh ?

    And within that the pathological lying of all of them that is intentional in order to deceive stupid people in believing shit that just isn't true ?

    Any of this have anything to do with their being rejected ?

  • dweb on November 19, 2012 10:13 AM:

    Always remember this important fact:

    During the entire campaign, there were only two times when Mitt Romney spoke the truth as he truly believed it and both of those occurred behind closed doors when he thought he was speaking only to his biggest donors:

    The 47% speech
    And his post-election claim that Obama "bought" the election.

    That tells you all you need to know about the man and his character. Adios Muchacho!!!

  • Gandalf on November 19, 2012 10:19 AM:

    stormskies--well said. You seem to have hit the proverbial nail right on the head. The human race has been in a struggle for centuries between the haves and the have-nots and nit recognizing that this is what's going on is like denying that global warming is taking place. Romney just got caught mouthing what the conservatives truly beleive and they'repissed at him for revealing what they think anyway.

  • AMS on November 19, 2012 10:35 AM:

    The GOP's feigned shock at their candidate's divisive comments rings hollow. This has been their game plan in the age of Rove: get the votes you need by stoking "real Americans'" resentment of whole swaths of their fellow citizens.

    I also think something else is at work here. Romney's failure as a candidate allows his fellow Republicans to finally express the dislike they've had for him all along. This is like primal scream therapy. It's no secret that Romney's GOP primary challengers in both 2008 and 2012 loathed the man with a white-hot loathing for his shape-shifting and willingness to throw anyone who gets in his way under the bus. Had he been elected President, his powerful position would have forced his fellow Republicans to pay reluctant homage. Now that he's a big loser, they can let their disdain flag fly for all the world to see.

  • Peter C on November 19, 2012 10:42 AM:

    Romney's "47%" remarks were standard Republican talkingpoints devised as a counter to Occupy Wall Street's "99%" rubric.

    I don't think Romney was a sacraficial lamb; I think he was a gamble that the Republicans thought was well better than 50-50. They were betting on the ignorance of the American public (hoping the populace didn't understand the nature of our economy, the president's lack of absolute power to control it, and the Republican's role in sabotaging it), and the power of overwhelmingly well-funded lies. They ensured their funding superiority by choosing the most popular of the 'business elite' wing, even though the Evangelical and Libertarian segments of the Republican Party were not enthusiastic.

    While I'm pleased that betting on ignorance and the power of money did not pay off, we'd be foolish not to recognize how close it came. With a more charismatic candidate (one who had more going for him than his height, race and nice hair), it might have been enough.

  • stormskies on November 19, 2012 10:47 AM:

    Amen Peter C , amen to that

  • Mimikatz on November 19, 2012 11:18 AM:

    Let us never forget, and constantly remind the media, that low tax rates are a gift to the wealthy, as are all their loopholes and deductions, and repealing onerous regulations that protect the general public from predatory capitalists are gifts as well to usinesses. There is a reason all those fat cats gave millions to Romney and it is precisely because he promised them endless goodies like low taxes, freedom from regulation and in at least some cases probably freedom from prosecution as well.

  • boatboy_srq on November 19, 2012 11:25 AM:

    [Romney's] background disqualified him from being the kind of authentic voice of white middle-class resentment of the poor and minorities and their “elitist” allies that comes naturally to a Sarah Palin.

    While nobody has been as completely false in recent memory as Multiple Position Mitt, it's rather an unpleasant shock to think of Teh Palin as "more authentic." QEotP - or is it Jadis, Queen of Narnia and Empress of the Lone Islands? - never struck me as especially genuine; but then again grifters never do.

    And ditto Ronald et al. The idea that the party itself may have to change to attract a more diverse base is alien to the GOTea, who (from all evidence since last Tuesday) seem to think the only thing they need is prettier language to disguise the hatred and bigotry.

  • Werewolf on November 19, 2012 11:31 AM:

    "...vengeful constituency of aging white reactionaries" is the best description of the Republican Party circa 2012 that I've ever seen. Kudos, Ed.

  • esaud on November 19, 2012 11:59 AM:

    If the Republicans are going to start appealing to various Democratic-leaning groups, you know the ones they call feminazis, blahs, illegals, moochers and other assorted non "real Americans", they are going to have to start erecting a few firewalls between themselves and the worst of the right wing.

    Personally, I'd start with Limbaugh, Nugent and OReilly.

  • James E. Powell on November 19, 2012 12:13 PM:

    Nearly every Republican I know insists that their party's problems with "those voters" are marketing problems, nothing more. They will not accept that "those voters" know exactly who the Republicans are and what their policies produce.

    A new face, a new name, is not going to help unless the policies change. Using new language to describe the same old policies will alienate their core of older, white, Protestant, not-exactly-urban voters. That demographic is shrinking and may not be large enough to elect a president. But without them, how will Republicans ever compete?

  • JackD on November 19, 2012 1:05 PM:

    Even a good salesman needs a product.

  • SteveCT on November 19, 2012 1:19 PM:

    Well put, Ed. It is remarkable how many GOP voices I have heard, post election, identifying the solution to the outcome as; throw a small immigration bone to the Hispanics and improve the marketing. I have yet to hear any Republicans identify any real policy changes as the path to a larger share of the electorate.

    In short, the GOP's problem with their candidate seems to be that they would have won, if only they had a more convincing liar.

  • AngryOldVet on November 19, 2012 2:01 PM:

    ...(ignoring both his and Obama’s expensive promises to older voters)...

    What the f*ck is it with Ed (DLC/DINO/Repuke-Lite) Kilgore and his continuing war on 'older voters'? The snide, uncalled for, and unnecessary comments referring to the older part of the population are calling for an explanation of why Kilgore deems the elderly as parasites!

  • Doug on November 19, 2012 4:14 PM:

    SOV, perhaps your anger would be better directed at the author of that particular phrase - Ben Smith?

  • Robert on November 19, 2012 4:47 PM:

    Romney is so yesterday. Out here in Red Tussle the base remains on a war footing, cycling between denial and anger. Republican committees are issuing ultimatums to their Representatives - "ditch Boehner, he has been meeting with Obama".

  • N.Wells on November 19, 2012 5:17 PM:

    The Republicans now own an amazing [whatever the opposite of a pantheon is] of unmentionable former champions. The next Democratic convention should devote at least half an evening to "Whatever happened to....." (Bush, McCain, Palin, Romney, ...."