Romney and His Race Card–“What Are You Going To Do About It?”

Regular readers of Political Animal should find this analysis of Mitt Romney’s stretch-run strategy and message, as articulated by Thomas Edsall in the New York Times, very familiar:

The Republican ticket is flooding the airwaves with commercials that develop two themes designed to turn the presidential contest into a racially freighted resource competition pitting middle class white voters against the minority poor.

Ads that accuse President Obama of gutting the work requirements enacted in the 1996 welfare reform legislation present the first theme. Ads alleging that Obama has taken $716 billion from Medicare — a program serving an overwhelmingly white constituency — in order to provide health coverage to the heavily black and Hispanic poor deliver the second. The ads are meant to work together, to mutually reinforce each other’s claims.

Edsall, as you may recall, has been suggesting for a good while that this is the sort of politics the Tea Party Movement is all about.

So that’s the most important sense in which the Romney campaign has finally surrendered unconditionally to the Right: not simply accepting its political positions or promising to make its priorities his own, or placing on his ticket their favorite politician–but also adopting its meta-message about the kind of people Obama represents (those people) and the kind of people who are suffering from his redistributionist ways.

It’s clear by now that the Romney campaign is going to shrug off the almost universal denunciation of his welfare ads (and to only a lesser extent, his Medicare ads that show a white senior frowning as the narrator says ObamaCare is “not for you”) as a pack of despicable, race-baiting lies–or use the so’s-your-old-man argument that Obama’s campaign tactics justify his own. If nothing else, his wizards probably figured out some time ago that the “welfare” crap offered a rare opportunity to hit notes equally effective with “the base” and the non-college educated white voters who make up a high percentage of this election’s “swing.” Add in the thick armor conservatives have built for themselves against any accusations of racism–now, almost by definition, they believe only liberals are racists, and only white people are targets of racism–and it was probably an easy call for Team Mitt, particularly since truthfulness is not a factor at all.

The Romney campaign’s attitude seems to be that of the famous nineteenth century rogue William (Boss) Tweed, who when confronted by journalists with his misdeeds, said: “Well, what are you going to do about it?” Romney’s not going to be shamed out of his unsavory tactics. But on the other hand, if his gambit fails, not only will his presidential ambitions perish once and for all, but just maybe the kind of politics he has come to exemplify–rich people encouraging the middle class to “kick down” at “those people”–will take a hit as well.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.