Ross Douthat recently argued that the triumph of Mitt Romney means that the basic sanity of Republican voters is underrated:
But against this backdrop, the party’s voters have behaved remarkably responsibly. Confronted with a flip-flopping, gaffe-prone front-runner whom almost nobody — conservative or liberal — finds very appealing, they have methodically sifted through the alternatives, considering and then discarding each in turn. From early 2011 onward, the media have overinterpreted this sifting process, treating every polling surge for a not-Romney candidate almost as seriously as an actual primary result. They might nominate Herman Cain! They might nominate Michele Bachmann! Why — they might nominate Donald Trump! Not so much. Instead, despite an understandable desire to vote for a candidate other than Mitt Romney, Republicans have been slowly but surely delivering him the nomination — consistently, if reluctantly, choosing the safe option over the bomb-throwers and ideologues.
Jonathan Chait argues against Republican voters and sanity, but I think there’s a more fundamental issue here: Republican voters had very little to do with elevating Romney and defeating crazy candidates. Republican voters, as can be seen by those poll results, were perfectly ready to vote for Donald Trump and Herman Cain, but neither one of them made it to a single ballot. Bachmann? Yes, she did make it to the Iowa caucuses, so I suppose one could give Iowa Republicans some credit there. But Newt Gingrich, who Douthat (correctly in my view) places in the category of candidates who voters would be quite ill-advised to support, has done remarkably well, given that he has practically no resources, has only bothered to campaign in a handful of states (remember, he basically skipped most of the February contests), and has had all sorts of attacks dumped on him.
Indeed, what we’ve seen throughout is that Republican voters are perfectly ready to support any loony who is willing to use sure-fire talking points about teleprompters and czars and, yes, birth certificates, the “issue” that fueled Trump’s rise in the polls.
Now, one can certainly argue that the eventual triumph of Mitt Romney shows that Republican party actors aren’t crazy themselves, and that they — plus the Romney campaign with it’s large warchest — have sufficient resources to overcome the instincts of GOP primary voters. Or one can, as Chait does, argue that what’s really happening here is that Romney is doing a good enough job of pretending to be crazy to win. As he says, Romney’s been dispatching his opponents with attacks that were designed to resonate with Tea Partiers (harsh immigration policies, defense of freedom for businesses to behave however they want, hatred of earmarks and debt limit increases).
But the one thing I really think it’s hard to claim is that Republican voters are the ones fighting back against the crazy. If it were up to them, odds are that the Cain/Bachmann ticket would be preparing for its convention speeches right now.
[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]