The Man Who Couldn’t Whistle

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

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.