From the start of the 2012 election cycle there was one thing that was clear and consistent about Mitt Romney’s campaign: that he would be neither clear nor consistent.
Romney has been on both sides of every major issue. Whereas he once bragged about his unwavering defense of Roe v Wade, he now calls for it’s repeal. He once claimed that he would be a stronger advocate for gay rights than Ted Kennedy, but now adamantly supports the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act. He mercilessly bashes ObamaCare, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his own RomneyCare in Massachusetts was the basis for it. Point to a Romney flip and there is a flop following closely.
The only consistent thing about Romney is his clockwork-like predictability in changing his shape to become whatever he thinks the far-right Republican base wishes for him to become.
Perhaps the most fervent desire of the conservative crowd is for a candidate that will mix it up with his opponent, Barack Obama. They want a fighter who will throw everything, including the kitchen sink, into the ring. Nothing is off the table – not birtherism, not race, not religion, nothing. They want a knock-down, drag-out brawl that leaves Obama bloodied in a gutter. And that is exactly what Romney is now promising to deliver. According to a Romney adviser…
“There were a lot of folks who didn’t think he’d have the edge to really take on the president [...] They’ve been pretty surprised and impressed at how willing Boston has been to push back.”
Rush Limbaugh gave what to him must be the highest praise, saying that “This is not the McCain campaign.” Indeed, Romney is trading in substance for belligerence. His strategy hinges on avoiding weaselly policy positions that he knows will upset his base, and feeding them raw anger that appeals to their bloodlust for Obama. And above all, never back down or apologize. Even if it means tolerating Donald Trump’s ignorant birtherism and Ted Nugent’s violent wet dreams. Another Romney aide, after being told that conservatives were comparing his tactics to the late, notoriously dishonest bomb thrower Andrew Breitbart, said “Oh great, that’s what we were going for.”
The media, as usual, is getting it all wrong. After Obama made some comments about Romney, who unlike John McCain, lacked the moral leadership to denounce creeps like Trump and Nugent, a report by the Associated Press bore the headline, “Obama longs for GOP rival like McCain.” That’s taking it a bit too far, to say the least. Obama would just like to see the crazy fringe dwellers, like those who think Obama is a Muslim plant sent to hand America over to its enemies, be shunted to the sidelines where they belong. On occasion McCain would do that, but to Romeny that would signal weakness to his Tea Party masters.
A couple of days ago Bill Clinton was interviewed on CNN and said that Romney had “a sterling business career,” and that he was certainly qualified to run for president. The right-wingnut crowd frothed with excitement that this polite remark was tantamount to an endorsement of Romney, even though Clinton explicitly said that Obama was by far the better choice. That led to Clinton’s clarification today:
“I said, you know, Governor Romney had a good career in business and he was a governor, so he crosses the qualification threshold for him being president,” Clinton said. “But he shouldn’t be elected, because he is wrong on the economy and all these other issues.
“So today, because I didn’t attack him personally and bash him, I wake up to read all these stories taking it out of context as if I had virtually endorsed him, which means the tea party has already won their first great victory: ‘We are supposed to hate each other to disagree.’ That is wrong.”
That’s precisely what today’s Republican Tea Party is advocating. There is simply no place for reasonableness, compromise, or maturity. At the same time, there is no disgracefulness that is beyond the pale. The lesson that the right learned in 2008 was that any expression of respect or courtesy, or any accommodation to civility, is a betrayal of principle. The ideal aspiration of the right is for a candidate with the most pigheaded sense of nastiness and an absence of shame. And if that’s what they want then, by God, that’s what Romney will give them.
Romney’s most urgent goal now is to portray himself as the fiercest warrior on the battlefield. It doesn’t matter what he’s fighting for so long as he leaves a lot of corpses on the ground. As I said once before, he is “The Punisher.”