The Odd Ducks

Mitt Romney was always sort of an odd duck. When he was governor of Massachusetts he created a form of universal healthcare there that subsidized people buying health insurance from existing for-profit corporations, and fined those who would have rather done without, and mandated certain coverage standards be met. It was Obamacare before there was Obamacare – and then when he ran for president in 2012 he vowed to get rid of Obamacare entirely, because it was evil or something. Democrats found this amusing. Republicans found this confusing – but Romney told them that he was really “severely conservative” deep down somewhere. No one believed that – the man would say anything – but the thinking seemed to be that he was the one guy who could actually beat Obama. Not everyone is a Rush Limbaugh fan that misses Dick Cheney and thinks the country went to hell when FDR started to use the government to actually do things for people, when Real Americans do things for themselves and the free market winnows out the losers, who get what they deserve. Romney might win those who still think government is useful over to their side – he wasn’t a let-them-all-die kind of guy. Massachusetts is a heavily blue state – full of Democrats – and he won there. Maybe that sort of thing could be scaled-up on a national level. And he did look the part – the square jaw and the great hair – but he was still an odd duck.

The problem was that he was a terrible campaigner – stiff and clueless, never realizing that touting the fact that he got rich by borrowing tons of money from other rich folks to buy companies and then dismantle them and sell the parts, then pay back his rich friends and pocket the vast remaining profits from the fire sale, wouldn’t sit well with voters. In fact he had a tin ear in general – at the Summer Olympics in London that year the British people, as one, turned on him. He said when he ran the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, he had things under control at all times, and he wasn’t sure the Brits were up to the task, unlike him. The odd thing was he never did understand why they were upset – but then all of his jokes and quips always fell flat. What he thought was funny others thought was cruel, or at least clueless. He couldn’t read people. He couldn’t see them. He was in his own world, with the other rich folks.

Then he said he “wasn’t concerned” with poor people. We had a safety net and if it wasn’t working it could be fixed with a nip and tuck here and there, so that just wasn’t an issue as far as he was concerned. That was followed by the forty-seven percent comments, comments that were supposed to be private. In private he said that nearly half the country was useless – they expected their government to do things for them – and those folks would vote for Obama, who had the same view of government. They were a lost cause. Forget them. He’d concentrate on getting everyone else – the folks who weren’t moochers – to vote for him. If he could get to one vote over fifty percent he’d win. That was the plan.

Romney was doing no more than explaining his general strategy to a group of key donors – how he’d use their money efficiently – but when those comments became public it was pretty much over for him. Mitt Romney was one cruel and arrogant son of bitch – or so it seemed. He couldn’t talk that away. The Republicans wanted someone to rid them of Obama, but he wasn’t the guy. He had no compelling story – he was a successful businessman from a family of wealth and power. That was it. He also had no compelling story about America. What he really wanted to do, were he elected, was never quite clear. He did want to undo everything Obama had done, but then what? No one knew. He just wanted to be president. That didn’t cut it.

The 2012 election was closer than it should have been, but then there were a considerable number of people who hated Obama and everything they thought he stood for, and every one of them came out and voted for Romney, in protest. They had no other option. Many of those votes had nothing to do with anything Mitt Romney had ever said or ever done. He wasn’t “one of them” – but at least he wasn’t the other guy. It was the same with John McCain four years earlier. The base of the party never liked him much either. His positons on key issues they cared about had been all over the place for decades – and he had wanted Joe Lieberman, Al Gore’s running mate four years earlier, to run with him. He gave them Sarah Palin to make them like him more, but that was a disaster. These last two cycles the Republicans have had a problem finding the right guy, one of them who might appeal to those not like them.

That was never going to be Mitt Romney, so this isn’t surprising:

On a ski lift high above the powdery slopes of Deer Valley, Utah, Mitt Romney made it clear: His quest for the White House, which had dominated nearly a decade of his life, was coming to a close.

In a talk with his eldest son, Tagg, between runs down the mountain on Monday, Mr. Romney, 67, said he had all but decided against a third bid for the White House.

The conversation, according to a person familiar with it, came after days of increasingly gloomy news reached the Romney family.

Donors who supported him last time refused to commit to his campaign. Key operatives were signing up with former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida. The Republican establishment that lifted Mr. Romney to the nomination in 2012 in the face of scrappy opposition had moved on.

The announcement was made on a conference call, and that was that. Everyone now knew he wasn’t the guy:

“People were much more excited about Jeb than Mitt,” said Ron Gidwitz, a Chicago financier who helped raise millions for Mr. Romney and allied groups in 2012. “Mitt ran twice before unsuccessfully. He’s a great guy. But winning is everything in this business.”

The smart money was on Jeb Bush:

The campaign to deny Mr. Romney another chance began almost immediately after he mused to donors at a Friday get-together in New York City on Jan. 9 that he was open to the possibility of another run. By that Sunday afternoon, William Oberndorf, a prominent California investor who supported Mr. Romney in both of his previous presidential campaigns, had emailed a group of 52 powerful Republicans, including former Secretary of State George Shultz, the investor Charles Schwab, Gov. Bruce Rauner of Illinois and the Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos with a blunt message: we need to support someone else.

Mr. Oberndorf wrote: “We are fortunate in Jeb Bush to have an extremely talented and able candidate who, I believe, has a far better prospect of winning a general election than Mitt. Moreover, Mitt has now run twice and has had his chance to be president. It is now time to cede the field to others.”

Mr. Oberndorf requested that those on the email contact Mr. Romney’s longtime finance chief, Spencer Zwick, to make it clear that they did not want Mr. Romney to run again. And many of them did, Mr. Oberndorf said in an interview on Friday.

“Of everybody I contacted, I only heard from one person who thought Mitt should give it another shot,” said Mr. Oberndorf. In the weeks after he expressed renewed interest in running, Mr. Romney contacted some of his most loyal supporters. But often, he found Mr. Bush had gotten there already.

It takes a lot of money to run for president. If you haven’t got it you’re out, and Jeb got there first:

Mr. Bush’s strategy, mainly behind the scenes, was smooth and effective, as he reached out to potential supporters, mixing wonky ideas with personal charm. In a December telephone call with Joe Craft and Kelly Knight, the husband and wife who are coveted contributors in Kentucky, Mr. Bush offered his views on business and education and seemed to have all the time in the world for the couple, who raised millions for Mr. Romney’s 2012 candidacy. And, in a follow-up email, he flattered the pair, who are also the largest financial boosters of the University of Kentucky basketball program, with his careful attention to their passion.

“Saw the Wildcats did pretty well on Saturday,” Mr. Bush wrote, after Kentucky thrashed UCLA by nearly 40 points. “Congrats.”

Jeb is smooth. Mitt never could be smooth, although in his conference call statement he could be nasty:

I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well-known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee. In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.

I feel that it is critical that America elect a conservative leader to become our next president. You know that I have wanted to be that president. But I do not want to make it more difficult for someone else to emerge who may have a better chance of becoming that president.

Jeb Bush is not “just getting started” – so, Republicans, you really don’t want someone old and stale, a third Bush. He jabbed Jeb, not that it makes a difference. The big money, that determines who gets this nomination, is already with Jeb, and from the other side, the blogger BooMan adds this:

Let no one say that Mitt Romney left the political stage gracefully or with even a shred of dignity left. The best you can say is that he somehow mustered the self-awareness to avoid even further indignities. He will not run for the presidency a third time, which pretty much hands the reins to Jeb, if Jeb can somehow ride the bucking clown car all the way to the acceptance stage in Cleveland next summer.

In the end, he signed off calling for an “end to the grip of poverty,” causing something between a collective shrug and a guffaw. He then reiterated the importance of electing a “conservative” president, thereby eliminating any hope that he might stand for something within the modern Republican Party that could ultimately save or redeem it.

For such a rich man, it is hard to believe how worthless he is.

Those who fund and thus own the Republican Party, some would say as a relatively inexpensive tool to serve their interests – who, now that Romney is outraged by poverty, of all things, are even less impressed with him – now agree with how worthless this guy is.

Jeb may not be the answer, however, as folks remember what his brother once said… “There’s an old saying in Tennessee – I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee – that says, fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.”

The joke going around now is fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, fool me a third time and Jeb Bush is president. Expect to see more of that. A third Bush may not be an easy sell, no matter how much money you spend on convincing America that Jeb is the good Bush, that the third time is charm and all that. This would have been Romney’s third try, and there’s this:

A Fox News poll released Thursday found Romney leading the rest of the field with 21 percent support followed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee with 11 percent, Rand Paul with 11 percent, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush with 10 percent. None of the other roughly dozen candidates managed to get double digit support.

Spend enough money and you can change those numbers, and Romney must have known that, but it’s not that no one liked him. This is a strange business, where money vies with what the party wants. Money wins, it always does, but there are those who try to overcome a lack of big money from big donors with big ideas, or rather unusual ideas, hoping to catch fire with a big enough bloc of angry voters so that the money will have to flow their way, eventually.

These are the even odder ducks, and one of them is Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, as Salon’s Elias Isquith explains here:

Initially, Jindal wanted to be seen as a new kind of Republican, a GOPer for the Obama era. Needless to say, Jindal’s Indian ancestry was a component of this framing. But so was his allegedly fearsome intellect, which earned him degrees from Brown and Oxford and made him a Rhodes Scholar. When his disastrous TV debut necessitated he shed that persona in favor of another, however, Jindal decided to go the other way, presenting himself as the ultimate anti-tax governor. He proposed Louisiana scrap income taxes altogether, but in part because his plan made up the revenue difference with sales taxes, which disproportionately hit the middle and working classes, the policy achieved little beyond sinking his approval rating. It remains low to this day.

After President Obama’s reelection in 2012, Jindal seemed to think he had another chance to claim the mantle of Sensible Republican. He charged out of the gate in 2013 with a call for the GOP to “stop being the stupid party,” which was, as you might imagine, not particularly well-received by the people who thought he was calling them stupid. Having seen his latest attempt fizzle out nearly as soon as it had started, Jindal proceeded to lay low for a while, but did little to change the perception that he still intended to run for president. Over the past few weeks, though, we’ve gotten a sense of what the latest version of Bobby Jindal might look like. And it isn’t pretty.

Lately, the man who urged his fellow Republicans to stop being stupid has grabbed headlines by pandering to the Islamophohbic sentiment that’s widespread among the fundamentalist Christian bloc of the GOP base. The first sign was Jindal’s embrace of a paranoid fantasy that’s increasingly popular among far-right Christians, the supposed prevalence in the United Kingdom and Europe of “no-go” zones. These zones, according to the McCarthyite narrative, are neighborhoods or regions that have become so dominated by Muslim immigrants (and, of course, Sharia Law) that non-Muslims dare not enter them. The whole idea is a hysterical exaggeration, so much so that even Fox News has apologized for disseminating it. But Jindal has refused to downplay the no-go threat, despite being unable to point to any real examples.

If Jindal had left it there, you could have chalked it up as a momentary lapse in judgment, coupled with the typical arrogance of powerful men who are not accustomed to admitting they’re wrong. But he didn’t leave it there; he took it much further. He not only went on to flaunt his defiance on Fox News, promising he would never “tiptoe around the truth” when it came to “radical Islamic terrorism,” but also made clear that his turn to angry tribalism was no accident by grousing that he was “ready for us to stop calling ourselves hyphenated-Americans.” What connection there was between these two fearful mental spasms (it would be too charitable to call them thoughts) was unclear – until, that is, Jindal was able to get to what seemed to be his real message, which was little more than a nativist rant…

Peter Beinart takes it from there:

If Bobby Jindal runs for president, he will likely campaign on two major themes. The first, which he outlined last February at the Reagan Library and last May at Liberty University, is that Christians are at war with the liberal elite that is trampling religious liberty and secularizing American culture. The second, which he laid out this month at London’s Henry Jackson Society, is that “non-assimilationist Muslims” are endangering America and Europe.

Unfortunately for Jindal, these two arguments contradict each other.

In London, Jindal said “non-assimilationist Muslims” threaten the West not merely because they support acts of violence, and not merely because they adhere to Islamic rather than national law. Most fundamentally, they pose a threat because they refuse to embrace the cultures of the countries to which they immigrate. Denouncing the left’s claim that “it is unenlightened, discriminatory, and even racist to expect immigrants to endorse and assimilate into the culture in their new country,” Jindal insisted that “it is completely reasonable for nations to discriminate between allowing people into their country who want to embrace their culture, or allowing people into their country who want to destroy their culture, or establish a separate culture within.”

In his London speech, Jindal made little effort to define American or European culture except to associate it with “freedom.” So it’s hard to know exactly which aspects of it he believes Muslims refuse to embrace. But in his speeches last year on religion, Jindal discussed American culture at greater length. And his verdict was surprisingly harsh. “American culture,” he told students at Liberty University, “has in many ways become a secular culture.” Many churches, he declared, now espouse “views on sin [that] are in direct conflict with the culture.” In case students hadn’t gotten the message, Jindal repeated himself: “Our culture has taken a secular turn.”

Then he asked a rhetorical question: “What do we do about it?” His answer: resist. People of faith, he argued, must recognize that they are fighting a “silent war” against the secular, liberal elite. And they must keep waging that war no matter how much of a cultural minority they become. “Our religious liberty,” he insisted, “must in no way ever be linked to the ever-changing opinions of the public.”

Yes, that makes no sense:

Let’s imagine a scenario. A devout Christian emigrates from Nigeria to a progressive American college town, where she takes up work as a pharmacist. She quickly finds herself at odds with the dominant culture around her. Co-workers mock her modest dress and her insistence on interrupting work to pray. When she calls homosexuality a sin, they denounce her as a bigot. Ultimately, her employer fires her for refusing to dispense contraception.

Based on his speeches at Liberty University and the Reagan Library, Jindal’s advice to this woman would be clear: Wage “silent war” against the culture that oppresses you, even if you’re a minority of one. If necessary, “establish a separate culture within” the dominant one so you can raise children who fear and obey God.

Now imagine that our devout Nigerian is a Muslim. Suddenly her resistance to the dominant culture makes her not a hero but a menace. Jindal supporters might resist the analogy. Christians, they might argue, don’t kill cartoonists or establish their own separate legal systems. But Jindal’s point in London was that the problems with Muslim immigrants go beyond issues of violence and law. The core danger, he insisted, is their refusal to assimilate into the culture of the countries to which they immigrate. And since Jindal has already declared that American (let alone European) culture is secular, any immigrant who refuses to assimilate into it is, by his definition, a threat. Our Nigerian pharmacist should never been given a visa.

Jindal is offering nonsense, and it’s nasty nonsense:

Why point out the contradiction between Jindal’s heroic portrayal of Christian non-assimilators and his demonization of Muslim ones? Because it exposes his lofty talk about culture and identity to be an elaborate ruse. The only principle he’s really defending is anti-Muslim bigotry.

That may show far too much concern for a guy that won’t come close to winning the Republican nomination, but Ed Kilgore adds this:

I’m tired of being semi-alone in viewing the Louisiana governor as especially cynical and dangerous. No, I don’t think he’s going to win the presidential nomination, but right now he’s a cinch for a Cabinet post if Republicans regain the White House, and as Chris Rock would say, “That ain’t right!.”

Of course it’s not right, but the Republicans seem to turn out a vast array of these odd ducks every four years. Very few have the common sense and self-awareness to just pack it in, as Mitt Romney just did – even if it took him long enough. Perhaps the problem is structural. When you have a party structured to serve the interests of those with the big bucks, but full of angry folks with other ideas, there will be odd ducks – lots of them – and Democratic presidents.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to The Odd Ducks

  1. Rick says:

    I understand Mitt Romney said that he’d be dropping out, even though he knew he could have won — except we have to remember, back on election night in 2012, that he was so delusional, he thought he had won.

    A liberal like me has to love that the lesson from Romney’s withdrawal is that votes, which Romney seemed to have more of than any of his Republican opponents, were outvoted by money, which he apparently had less of than Jeb Bush. You’d think this might persuade Mitt to join the anti-Citizen’s-United chorus, but I doubt he apprehends the irony in it.

    And if money truly does always win, then that means so will Jeb Bush. I confess, if some Republican has to become our next president, I’d prefer it be him. He may not be a Rhodes Scholar like Jindal and Cruz, but he certainly comes across as being smarter. Yet one big reason he’s probably a stronger candidate than all those Clown Car Candidates is that people have heard of him, mostly because of his last name.

    But it seems every candidate, especially the Republican ones, has an albatross he can’t shake, and so just as Mitt Romney had to convince voters Romneycare wasn’t Obamacare, Bush will need to get people believing he’s not as bad as his brother.

    Rick

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