Mitt Romney grew up in Michigan. His dad served as governor. In the 2008 GOP primaries, he easily carried the state against his rivals, including the eventual nominee, John McCain.
So why was last night’s contest so close? Let’s consider the facts.
Many progressives, myself included, were hoping for a decisive Rick Santorum victory. And, up until the returns started trickling in, it looked like an upset was definitely possible in what was presumed to be a Romney stronghold. As it stands, Mittens’ triumph is hardly worth touting — he barely squeaked by. The win is surely enough for Romney’s candidacy to continue, but it raises serious doubts about his viability in several key Super Tuesday contests next week.
Something curious: Romney’s verbal gaffes (and general robotic demeanor) seem to have a negative impact on voter perception, while Santorum is able to say any old crazy thing (college is for snobs; John F. Kennedy’s speech about keeping religion out of politics “makes [him] want to throw up”; “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money,” etc., etc.).
The difference is that Santorum is speaking directly to what is now the Republican base, like it or not (soon-to-be ex-Senator Olympia Snowe clearly does not). Romney appears to be campaigning for the leadership of a GOP that no longer exists. Still, he should definitely have a better sense of how to tailor his messages, particularly in a state he knows very well. Michigan is car country. It’s bad enough that he’s on record opposing intervention into the state’s dominant industry; he actually goes the extra mile to offend popular conservative sensibilities everywhere. Mittens, asked if he followed NASCAR, said,”Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans. But I have some great friends that are NASCAR team owners.”
The takeaway? I’m a rich guy who’s not like you.
Romney is still very competitive in a general election, mostly because people don’t actually buy him as a hardcore right-winger. But the primaries will continue to be difficult for the very same reason. The only thing he has going for him is that no matter how intensely xenophobic and misinformed many in the Republican party seem to be, there is still a plurality of conservatives who are uncomfortable with alternatives like Santorum, or —cough— Newt Gingrich. This dynamic should be enough to allow Romney to limp to the nomination, but there won’t be any grand coronation. Conservatives will have to wait longer (if not forever) for their mythical Ronald Reagan figure to appear.
One last aside: I mentioned earlier that some of us on the Left are enthusiastically championing a Santorum nomination. For me, it’s not just because he represents the easiest path to reelection for the president — I want to be entertained. A general election campaign starring a homophobic, anti-science, anti-woman, anti-education candidate for the highest office in the land will be pure comedy. A co-worker disagrees, as she does not prefer what this means for our politics. I admire her high civic standards, but at this point, I simply want to lance the boil. Let’s do this thing without any coded language or dog-whistle bullshit. Let’s just get it all out in the open. And let’s find out which America we really want to be.