29 January 2015
Romney and Republicans' primary priorities
In 2012 Mitt Romney won many of the Republican primaries on his way to the party's presidential nomination. He went on to lose the general election. His comments yesterday suggest that Romney thinks the primary ordeal compromised his ability to reach out to a broader electorate. There's no other way to interpret his remark that "During our campaigns for the primary vote, we tend to go to the audiences that vote in a Republican primary." Republicans do that, Romney seems to say, at the expense of outreach to minority communities, who presumably end up alienated by the rhetoric of a primary campaign that panders to the party base. In effect, Romney is blaming the party rather than himself for his loss to President Obama in 2012. He clearly doesn't mean to say that he was incapable of outreach -- otherwise why try yet again as he seems poised to do? -- so he must mean that the primary process handicapped him for the general election. This is a counter-narrative to the right-wing post-mortems that blamed Romney for lacking the ideological fervor necessary to inspire the Hidden Majority of Tea Party fantasies into voting. A primary process that results in Republicans nominating Romney, from a perspective to Romney's right, is not one that pays excessive attention to the party's primary base voters. TPs and other rightists might argue instead that the party's problem is either too many open primaries in which outsiders can vote for the "moderate" Romney, or too many candidates competing for the ideological base vote while moderates (or a nebulous "establishment") rally around a trimmer like Romney. To his credit, Romney's remarks imply that he doesn't believe in the Hidden Majority fantasy and recognizes that Republicans must learn to appeal to voters they might otherwise distrust or despise, and who otherwise may distrust and despise them. But to the extent that his remarks seemed intended as advice to candidates, or possibly to donors, it really was aimed at the wrong audience. The practical fact remains that candidates must "go to the audiences that vote in a Republican primary" in order to win a Republican primary. That means the voters themselves are part of the party's problem. Romney needs to tell primary voters that their responsibility as Republicans is to pick a candidate who'll prove viable in a general election given the electorate we have, not the electorate TPs and others want. If they want their party to win the Executive Branch and cinch its grip on government, they may have to forgo some of the red-meat rhetoric they hanker for and behave, perhaps just this one time at the polls, like they give a damn about the rest of the American people. If Romney is willing to say something like that on the primary campaign trail, I'll start to be really impressed.