Despite all the “guidance” and kibitzing from the sidelines, Romney is not, and has never been, a stupid man. He has made more money than perhaps all of the readers of this website, combined. He has not only been a bishop, but a major contributor to the Mormon church. He is the husband of a wife whose Multiple Sclerosis - a truly scary disease - has not prevented her from vociferously hitting the stump for him. He is also father to a slew of handsome sons, one of whom has the added virtue of fluency in Spanish. And Romney himself speaks one of the most grammatically complicated languages known to man: French. Stupid or unaccomplished, Romney isn’t either one.
But still, amid a glacially slow recovery with over 8 percent unemployment (and amid a flood of money showered on Republicans by anonymous Super Pacs), Romney is trailing Obama. In fact, as I write this the day before the first debate which could – but most likely will not - change everything, the main question seems to be not if he will lose, but by how much. His advisors have already begun damage control, asserting that he’s not had the many opportunities to debate that Obama has and that the president is known for being quite eloquent anyways. There have even been reports about the Republican National Committee looking to cut its losses on Mitt, instead concentrating their money on other down ballot races.
Republican aspirations to hold take over the Senate -- with Mitch McConnell as majority leader -- seem increasingly attenuated, and their majority in the House will probably shrink. And all this is happening because, so many pundits say, Romney is such a weak candidate.
But is that the real story here? I just don’t believe it. There is something else going on, for sure.
Cut off from ever going left by the fears of diminishing or losing his base, Romney constantly has to turn right: Right into an overly aggressive jingoistic military approach; right into opposing abortion in nearly all situations (or, per the Republican platform, in all situations); right on opposing “Obamacare,” even if it is modeled on “Romneycare,” of which he is proud; and extreme right on supporting a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
Does Romney really believe in all this?
It doesn’t really matter. He is caught in a political rip tide, and this is where the Republican base is taking him. He is like J. Edgar Hoover, afraid – or perhaps unable - to make a left turn, while pretending that he wanted to turn right all along. And this is why he seems so inauthentic; he is pretending that he is his own man, swimming freely. That clearly does not seem to be the case.
Had Romney imploded in the primaries, the Republican nominee would have been a rigid right wing ideologue – Rick Perry, perhaps, or Rick Santorum, the latter whom I oddly admire. For despite my complete disagreement with nearly all of his policies, Santorum at least seems to believe what he says. To the degree that any politician can be an authentic spokesman for a cause, Santorum is the real deal, the real face of what the Republican party has become. Romney is the facade. The engine driving Republicans – driving out blacks and Latinos and gays and the poor – are the followers of Santorum, Perry, Gingrich and the like. Those candidates are not stuck with having only to turn right. Right is the direction in which they constantly want to go.
All of which is a problem for Republicans given America’s changing demographics – the rapidly increasing Latino population, the emancipation of women who want to be treated as equals and left alone on decisions they make about their own bodies, the increasingly politically active black and gay populations. Despite all this, Republicans have right turned into an ever narrowing channel, which will dead end in a cliff.
This leaves Romney with a limited choice. He can keep sailing down the narrowing channel, and pretend it is where he wants to go, hoping that there is still enough water to get him to 50.1% amid a lowering tide. Or he can try to turn around, face the fury of his Republican base, and swim back into the mainstream.
The problem with the second alternative is, even if he tried to swim back towards the center, the base of his party wouldn’t follow. They would yell traitor. And when Romney loses – perhaps by a large margin – they will say he lost because he was too “moderate,” that he should have charged more forcefully into the ever narrowing channel.
That is the real problem.
Romney is not a weak candidate. If he were he running as a Democrat, running on his record as governor of Massachusetts before he got the White House fever and started his steady shift towards the right, he could have been a strong candidate. Not only is he a successful businessman, he had a string of successes to his name – on healthcare, on the environment, and on gay equality. Incredible as it may now seem, he ran to the left of Ted Kennedy. But Romney long ago had to abandon all this if he had any hopes for the Republican Presidential nomination.
So Romney’s political maneuvers towards the right side of the GOP spectrum are not entirely his own fault. He is caught in the mix of a party that is largely comprised of a growing fringe: ignorant and nativist bozos who have captured the once-noble spirit of the party only to tout their ignorance as “Americanism.” They make it impossible to advocate non-fundamentalist, non-xenophobic, non male supremacist ideologies. The party of Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower and Nelson Rockefeller has become a caricature of what it once was.
So here is my prediction. When the Republicans lose the November elections they should have won, that once reputable party will be at a crossroads. Do they want to keep pushing their increasingly narrow ideology, and lose? Or do they want to finally turn out of that channel, race back to the open sea, and regroup?
The answer depends on how tight of a death grip the extremists have on the party, and whether they perceive Romney’s “flaw” as his being too “moderate.” If so, we may well have one more election cycle in which a “true believer” – a Santorum, say - will grasp the nomination only to go down in defeat as the Republican party finally crashes against the steep cliff of reality. For reality is that the American electorate is no longer as white, as Christian and as male-dominated as it once was. Reality is that the middle class is in trouble, and tax cuts for the rich will not diminish but rather exacerbate growing economic inequality. Reality is that millions of Mexicans living here will not be going back home through voluntary “self-deportation” or otherwise. And, reality is that gays are not going back into the closet, and women are not going to revert to playing a second fiddle role to men who believe they are wiser and stronger because that’s what their version of the Bible says.
Already, too many capable and moderate Republicans – such as New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg – will not run for higher office in a party whose base pushes them so far to the right. But either this year or in 2016 if the Republican base makes a last stand, the Republican party will shred itself against the cliff of a new, still growing American electorate. And then, it will be decision time.
The decision for Republicans is not Romney or not Romney. It is sink or swim.By Joseph Hanania, Aslan Media Columnist