Well, that’s over:
Mitt Romney scored a hard-won, home state triumph in Michigan and powered to victory in Arizona Tuesday night, gaining a two-state primary sweep over Rick Santorum and precious momentum in the most turbulent Republican presidential race in a generation.
Romney tweeted his delight – and his determination: “I take great pride in my Michigan roots, and am humbled to have received so much support here these past few weeks. On to the March contests.”
No, do we have to? Haven’t we had enough of this? Even with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul laying low and letting Mitt and Rick have at each other, all on their own, this was tiresome, and embarrassing, especially for Republicans. But there’s next week’s ten-state Super Tuesday, a mixture of primaries and caucuses. Nothing is really settled. Santorum called Romney to concede Michigan, and presumably offer him congratulations – Arizona was no contest at all, with Romney winning by a mile – and then went out and gave a speech as if he had won Michigan, really, and promised to fight on. Romney said “we didn’t win by a lot, but we won by enough” – which is true enough. And the results are ambiguous. Michigan was an open primary, and folks on the left were jumping in and voting for Santorum just to mess things up, and Santorum was also running robocalls urging Democrats to show up and vote for him, to stop Mitt, who, arrogant bastard that he is, opposed the bailout of the auto industry – actually just as Santorum did, but never mind. Assuming a good number of Democrats voted for Santorum, perhaps Romney did quite well. But it doesn’t matter. There’s much more to come. And it won’t be pretty.
In fact, earlier in the day, the New York Times’ resident reasonable conservative, David Brooks, dropped his warm and fuzzy evenhandedness and offered this:
Over these decades, one pattern has been constant: Wingers fight to take over the party, mainstream Republicans bob and weave to keep their seats. Republicans on the extreme ferociously attack their fellow party members. Those in the middle backpedal to avoid conflict. Republicans on the extreme are willing to lose elections in order to promote their principles. Those in the mainstream are quick to fudge their principles if it will help them get a short-term win.
In the 1960s and ’70s, the fight was between conservatives and moderates. Conservatives trounced the moderates and have driven them from the party. These days the fight is between the protesters and the professionals. The grass-roots protesters in the Tea Party and elsewhere have certain policy ideas, but they are not that different from the Republicans in the “establishment.”
But Brooks is now fed up:
The big difference is that the protesters don’t believe in governance. They have zero tolerance for the compromises needed to get legislation passed. They don’t believe in trimming and coalition building. For them, politics is more about earning respect and making a statement than it is about enacting legislation. It’s grievance politics, identity politics.
Of course, the professional politicians don’t want to get in the way of this torrent of passion and resentment. In private, they bemoan where the party is headed; in public they do nothing.
And he’s had enough of that:
All across the nation, there are mainstream Republicans lamenting how the party has grown more and more insular, more and more rigid. This year, they have an excellent chance to defeat President Obama, yet the wingers have trashed the party’s reputation by swinging from one embarrassing and unelectable option to the next: Bachmann, Trump, Cain, Perry, Gingrich, Santorum….
But where have these party leaders been over the past five years, when all the forces that distort the GOP were metastasizing? Where were they during the rise of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck? Where were they when Arizona passed its beyond-the-fringe immigration law? Where were they in the summer of 2011 when the House Republicans rejected even the possibility of budget compromise? They were lying low, hoping the unpleasantness would pass.
He’s calling them out as cowards, cowards who enable the fools:
They tremble for a few seconds then slip into an involuntary coma every time they’re challenged aggressively from the right. Without real opposition, the wingers go from strength to strength. Under their influence, we’ve had a primary campaign that isn’t really an argument about issues. It’s a series of heresy trials in which each of the candidates accuse the others of tribal impurity. Two kinds of candidates emerge from this process: first, those who are forceful but outside the mainstream; second, those who started out mainstream but look weak and unprincipled because they have spent so much time genuflecting before those who despise them.
And of course such candidates always lose, and will lose in November this time. Brooks notes the polling numbers show independents – those left to be swayed – have done a complete about face. A few weeks ago they leaned Republican – due to the crappy economy – and Obama leads Mitt Romney among independents now by twenty or more points. It’s a disaster, which Brooks sees as a failure of party leadership:
Leaders of a party are supposed to educate the party, to police against its worst indulgences, to guard against insular information loops. They’re supposed to define a creed and establish boundaries. Republican leaders haven’t done that.
Yes, the children need supervision, but P. M. Carpenter knows where the party leaders were:
They were lounging in their cloakrooms’ soft-leather, wingback chairs, breezing their eyes across conservative columns that dwelled, for example, on socioeconomic functions of “happiness,” rather than conservative columns that relentlessly smashed the emergency glass and frantically rang the alarm bell: Has this party gone fucking nuts – or what?
But Brooks was saying the same thing last July:
The Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative. The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no….
The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency.
This is nothing new. Then it was the business with raising the debt ceiling, and now it’s Rick Santorum saying Satan is real and actively working to ruin America, and that contraception is evil because it allows all citizens to decide, all on their own, to have sex when they are not purposely trying at that moment to have children, which is so wrong, and that reading Jack Kennedy’s famous speech, where Kennedy said that even if he was Catholic he would not take orders from the Pope, made Santorum want to throw up, and how Obama wanting more folks to go to college was just an elitist snob talking, because everyone knows college is where good kids lose the faith, as perhaps exposure to reason is damned dangerous and should be stopped – and so on and so forth – with Romney in a mild panic trying to match Santorum on all this but not able to, no matter how hard he tries. Brooks hit the wall here.
But just before the Michigan primary Mitt Romney said this:
It’s very easy to excite the base with incendiary comments. We’ve seen throughout the campaign if you’re willing to say really outrageous things that are accusative, attacking of President Obama, that you’re going to jump up in the polls. I’m not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support. I am who I am.
But Kevin Drum isn’t impressed:
Say what? I mean, Romney is basically right here, but he’s talking about himself. His strategy from the first day has been to deflect questions about his conservative bona fides by quickly pivoting to the wildest, most over-the-top applause-line condemnations of President Obama imaginable. And it’s a smart strategy: until recently it’s allowed him to show the Republican base that he’s one of them (“I hate Obama as much as you do!”) without tacking so far right that he ruins his chances in the general election.
Of course, Romney has since seen that strategy fizzle. His whole apology tour shtick, his claims that Obama wants to turn America into China, his claims that America is on the edge of a socialist precipice – well, that was pretty good stuff in its day, but Rick Santorum has upped the ante. Obama has declared war on religion! Obama wants you to go to college in order to indoctrinate you! He supports prenatal testing because he wants to rid America of the disabled! Suddenly, if you want to prove that you really hate Obama, the stakes have gone up. Romney has been outplayed at his own game, and he’s not happy about it.
Greg Sargent explains what he calls Romney’s Big Lie Strategy here – and notes that it kind of rings hollow. The liar does need to convince you that he thinks what he’s saying is true, or that you really think that it’s true – and no one ever seems to know what Romney thinks of what he’s actually saying and whether you ought to believe him at any given moment. He’s a slippery fellow.
But now Santorum is in an odd position:
Sure, Rick Santorum gave Mitt Romney a run for his money in his home state. And he should be proud of that. But by not pulling it off, signs point to Santorum making things much harder on himself moving forward than the results indicate.
His primaries party took place in a downtown hotel ballroom at the opulent Amway Grand, where Team Santorum hosted a low-key party to a not-huge crowd. Indicative of his pared-down campaign there were few staff and some strange failed sound cues. The crowd milled around, mostly keeping silent until Santorum entered the room when they gave him some full-throated cheers.
Santorum’s spin is simple: he got close in a state he never should have, the state where Romney was born and raised. That’s a win. It’s a feeling his team here tonight were keen to push. But there were also concerns about clouds on the horizon thanks to the way Santorum went about getting as close as he did.
He lost the establishment vote by going all old-time-religion crazy – which won the evangelicals over, especially with his insistence that church and state should never be separate at all. But in the process he lost the Catholic vote when he trashed Jack Kennedy – Catholics in Michigan voted for Romney, the Mormon, overwhelming, even though Santorum is the strict Catholic here. Oops. And the robocalls, asking for Democrats to come vote for him, offended a whole lot of Republicans. They may find Romney hopeless – an awkward man of no easily identifiable convictions, other than he should be president – but Santorum crossed the line.
And there are a few things to note from Andrew Sullivan’s live blog of the event:
Michigan’s sectarian results mirror Arizona’s. Evangelicals backed Santorum over Romney by a whopping 50-35 percent. Catholics, meanwhile, are not Santorum’s constituency; they voted 43 -37 for Romney, the Mormon. If the GOP were still wealthy, mainline Protestant, Catholic and Mormon, Romney would be walking it. But the evangelicals cannot digest him. Neither can the white working class. I can’t see how he can win the nomination without securing those two groups.
Those who want a candidate to share their religious beliefs, 62 percent went for Santorum, with only 20 percent for Romney. Evangelicals are backing the Benedict XVI candidate – because Christianists and theocons share political theology. And for them, there is no other kind of theology. …
Santorum wins every segment under $100,000 household income; Romney wins the richer. Santorum wins easily among union members. Romney’s core support is among the elderly. Sing us some more “America the Beautiful!”
I wish I could think of something to say about Romney’s pedestrian acceptance speech. One new line that might work: “We need a recovery from this so-called recovery.” The rest is pabulum that could have been said at any point since the 1980s. More tax cuts and no more debt. Yeah, right. And lies, lies, lies. Obama thinks he is “unchecked by the Constitution”? That was his predecessor, right?
But there was a general enthusiasm problem:
Less than half of voters in the Republican primary said they strongly favored their own candidate, while 52% had reservations or disliked the other candidate more, according to the exit poll data.
And on the hard right, Allahpundit offers this:
What, if anything, could convince Romney to drop out? If he underperforms on Super Tuesday, would that do it? What about the primaries after that? I find myself wondering more and more why he’s so determined to win when he receives so much negative feedback at every turn. He has few passionate supporters and many passionate detractors; he has no big cause or grand issue that animates him; his victories are owed chiefly to carpet-bombing his rivals with negative ads rather than stirring up enthusiasm for his candidacy. It’s almost a test of wills with the base, or some sort of exceptionally complex organizational problem he’s determined to solve. Is Mitt so skillful a manager that he can propel a candidacy built on virtually nothing to the Republican nomination despite resolute opposition from activists?
Maybe, but David Brooks saw this coming. And really, the big winner here might have been Obama, for the oddest of reasons, as according to Elvin Lim, it was the Citizens United ruling that changed everything:
The longer Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich stay in the race, the more likely the Republicans will be headed toward a brokered convention, and new developments keep making what was once a journalist’s dream a palpable possibility. Gingrich’s SuperPAC just got a 10 million infusion from Sheldon Adelson, and with a lock on Georgia’s delegates, he has no incentive to drop out anytime soon. Ron Paul, of course, is the only candidate in this race in it for the ideas and the ideas alone, so he is guaranteed to stay on for as long as he can shape the debate. When 2012 is wrapped up, it may well be that only one person unambiguously benefited from Citizens United and the rise of the SuperPACs to sustain the campaigns of what would once have been long shot candidates – the same person who had initially opposed Citizens United, Barack Obama.
That’s amusing, and it may be true. And we have this:
Former GOP presidential candidate John McCain said yesterday he fears Republicans will be stuck with a bloodied nominee so sapped by months of campaign attacks that he can’t beat President Obama – even as the party’s four combatants prepare to do battle again today in Michigan and Arizona.
“This is like watching a Greek tragedy,” McCain told the Herald. “It’s the negative campaigning and the increasingly personal attacks … it should have stopped long ago. Any utility from the debates has been exhausted, and now it’s just exchanging cheap shots and personal shots followed by super PAC attacks.”
But maybe it’s not a tragedy, just a farce. And there’s Timothy Stanley, the historian at Oxford University who blogs for The Daily Telegraph and just published The Crusader: The Life and Times of Pat Buchanan – who says the best man did not win the Michigan and Arizona primaries:
Santorum enjoys the confidence of significant numbers of non-Republican populists precisely because of his reputation as an antediluvian conservative. In an age when politicians seem manufactured and packaged to appeal to a shrinking center-ground, Santorum has stood out this season as a man of his word. That word might well be lifted from a particularly angry passage in Leviticus – but it sounds so much better than the bland platitudes that fall from Mitt’s mouth. It’s telling that Santorum performed well in Michigan among people looking for “strong moral character.” That’s what he’s selling on the campaign trail.
Romney did in Michigan what he needed to do all along: shore up the Republican vote and break the back of his biggest conservative rival. This sets him up nicely for a sweep on Super Tuesday (although Ohio and Georgia will be competitive).
But in the hour of Mitt’s victory, Santorum’s own portion of the vote reminded us that Romney remains unpopular with large swathes of the conservative electorate and the swing vote. Santorum could have won “the folks” back over to the GOP. Megabucks Mitt could still lose them for good.
Would people really prefer a good angry dose of Leviticus – where you find the Old Testament’s version of Sharia law – to bland pragmatism? Tastes vary. And what did David Brooks say? The professional politicians don’t want to get in the way of the quite useful “torrent of passion and resentment” – but in private “bemoan where the party is headed” – and in public do nothing. This really is going to go on and on and on. But there’s no more to say about Michigan.