To secure the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination, Mitt Romney had to take increasingly conservative positions. Many observers expected that once he became the nominee, Romney would move towards the political middle ground. But he hasn’t. His campaign has taken even more extreme stances because Romney believes it is the only way he can attract the votes of working-class whites.
Romney’s flip-flops are well documented. The former Massachusetts Governor began his political career as pro-choice but switched positions in 2007 and became pro-life. At the beginning of his career Romney supported gay rights but in 2005 he stated his opposition to gay marriage and civil unions. Romney claims to believe in man-made global warming but says he “is not certain to the extent that man is causing the change in the environment.” And on and on.
Because of his flip-flops, and his Mormon religion, some doubted Romney would become the Republican candidate. But he out spent his opponents and by winning the Texas primary, in late May, became the presumptive nominee. Then his campaign made a series of calculated moves to the extreme right.
On August 12th, Mitt Romney anointed Tea-Party favorite Paul Ryan as his running mate. In the process, Romney assumed all of Ryan’s baggage, including the draconian Ryan budget. Romney joined Ryan in his plan to turn Medicare into a voucher-driven system, gut Medicaid and Federal food stamp programs, and repeal Obamacare.
With Romney’s tacit approval, on August 28th Republicans approved an ultra-conservative platform that adopts most of the Tea Party’s proposals. Many of these are fiscal: “No new taxes” and “Repeal Obamacare.” But the platform also adopts Ron Paul’s proposal to audit the Federal Reserve, supports reversing all regulations written by President Obama, and advocates dropping the tax deduction for home-mortgage interest.
What gotten the most press attention are the ultra conservative social planks in the Republican platform. On women’s rights: the GOP wants a “human life amendment” that has no exceptions for abortion, even in the case of rape or incest. (The misogynistic platform wants an end to military women serving in combat zones.) On gay rights: the GOP opposes recognition of same-sex marriages (and civil unions) and wants a repeal of the military’s “don’t ask; don’t tell” rule. On immigration: the Republican platform supports the (mostly invalidated) laws adopted in Arizona and Alabama.
The New York Times reported that Romney’s advisers are “convinced he needs a more combative footing against President Obama in order to appeal to white, working class voters.”
“Many of those voters are economically disaffected, and the Romney campaign has been trying to reach them with appeals built around an assertion that Mr. Obama is making it easier for welfare recipients to avoid work. The Romney campaign is airing an advertisement falsely charging that Mr. Obama has ‘quietly announced’ plans to eliminate work and job training requirements for welfare beneficiaries, a message Mr. Romney’s aides said resonates with working-class voters who see government as doing nothing for them.”
By this tactic, and others such as making a birther joke Romney has introduced race and class into the 2012 contest. Political writer Elspeth Reeve opines that Romney’s descent into demagoguery is a deliberate tactic to ensure that he gets at least 61 percent of the white vote. (In 2008 whites favored McCain by a 55 to 43 percent margin.)
Romney’s tactic may work – it will be bolstered by a multi-million dollar ad campaign financed, in part, by Conservative Super PACs. But it has several inherent problems: Independent voters may see Romney as “extreme” and this could negatively affect his already shaky favorability ratings. (In the latest polls as many voters view Romney unfavorably, 43 percent, as view him favorably.)
And, Romney’s adoption of the strident Republican campaign against women may cause him to lose the votes of white women.
But the biggest danger in the Romney strategy is that it will turn the 2012 campaign into one based on race. Writing in the New York Times, Thomas Edsall observed, “89% of voters who identify themselves as Republican are white.” He continued,
“The Romney campaign is willing to disregard criticism concerning accuracy and veracity in favor of ‘blowing the dog whistle of racism’ - resorting to a campaign appealing to racial symbols, images and issues… The result is a campaign run at two levels. On the trail Paul Ryan argues, ‘we're going to make this about ideas. We're going to make this about a positive vision for the future.’ On television and the Internet, however, the Romney campaign is clearly determined "to make this about" race…
One of the complaints about George W. Bush was that he would say and do anything to win. Many hoped the Mitt Romney would be a different sort of candidate, one who would debate Obama about ideas and vision. Instead Romney has turned out to be a reprise of Dubya, a moral weakling who had decided to play the race card and cast himself as “the great white hope.”
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org