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The Loathsome Romney Candidacy: How Did We Get Here?

Scott McConnell makes an interesting point [1] about this campaign:

There is a weighty book to be written on how America has evolved so a man with Romney’s resume could plausibly run for president. It’s connected to many things, and one often overlooked is how immigration and diversity, largely a project of the Left, has helped to stymie any class-based or populist reaction to Romneyism. But however one ranks the causes, there really is no precedent for a fabulously wealthy Wall Street operator running on a distribute-wealth-from-the-middle-to-the-rich platform being a plausible contender for the American presidency.


Sylvana Rega [3] / Shutterstock.com

I would take slight issue with McConnell’s assertion that immigration is “largely a project of the Left.” Philosophically, that’s probably true. But on the ground, demand for immigrant labor issues transcends partisan boundaries.

That said, McConnell is right. This is a milestone moment in American politics. “Fabulously wealthy” presidential candidates are more of a norm than an aberration — witness the Roosevelts, the Kennedys, the Bushes, Nelson Rockefeller, George Romney, Ross Perot. But to a man, each of them ran at least in part on the principle of noblesse oblige — the idea that the wealthy must make sacrifices for the common good (yes, even George W. Bush, who promised not to “balance the budget on the backs of the poor).

In contrast, Romney and his ilk are having none of this. They are trying to persuade voters — and for all we know may have persuaded themselves — that, in effect, “As Goes Bain Capital, So Goes America.”

I’ve thought a lot about this question over the last six months. How did this happen? How did we come to this pass, where a man like Mitt Romney — whose candidacy represents a breathtakingly cynical, borderline nihilistic pursuit of power on behalf of a tiny sliver of the population — sits within striking distance of the highest office in the land?

The first, and most reassuring, explanation is that it’s an accident. Romney simply got lucky — and now a lousy economy is giving him the legitimate shot that any Republican would have enjoyed. Recall that Romney was deeply unloved in the 2008 primary. His rivals detested him, as did the majority of Republican primary voters. An untrusted senator — John McCain — got one last chance to run on his war record and his “centrist” reputation, and he faced a more formidable challenger in Mike Huckabee than he did in Romney.

But with McCain finished, and Huckabee declining to run (along with all the other plausible Republicans who prematurely overestimated Obama’s reelection chances), the decks were cleared for Romney and his well-heeled donors [4]. The GOP base desperately entertained every possible alternative to Romney, in comical succession. The cartoon conservatives Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain folded easily. Newt Gingrich reminded everyone why they were tired of him in the first place. Tim Pawlenty never achieved liftoff because of a ridiculous ritual [5]. Jon Huntsman ran a mainstream media favor-courting campaign that was spectacularly ill-suited to its moment. Rick Santorum, at the very least a properly credentialed candidate who could string together coherent sentences, fought Romney hard in the South, but ultimately proved little more than an underfunded thorn in his side.


Still, the “accident” narrative only gets you so far. The reality is, Romney slipped through — and there are troubling factors that buoy his campaign. The complete rejection of mainstream macroeconomic theory is one such factor. Cultural animus toward Obama is another. Liberals overstate its extent, but it’s undeniably real [6].

Most decisive is what I’ve been calling [7] the theological fusion of social and economic conservatism. Too many evangelical Christians seem incapable of even questioning Mammon. Now they enthusiastically welcome the money changers [8] into the temple. Like the Calvinists of old [9], they glorify market outcomes as a sign of divine favor.  And the cliche “class warfare” has served as a handy tool to shut down any deviation from this new orthodoxy.

The prospect of a second Obama term doesn’t excite me. Nevertheless, my overriding hope is to see Mitt Romney spat out of the body politic, once and for all.

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#1 Comment By LauraNo On July 9, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

“I would take slight issue with McConnell’s assertion that immigration is “largely a project of the Left.” Philosophically, that’s probably true. But on the ground, demand for immigrant labor issues transcends partisan boundaries.”

But isn’t the free movement of labour a free market thing?

#2 Comment By Thomas O. Meehan On July 9, 2012 @ 5:15 pm

Your assessment of Romney seems about right. But given the damage that Obama may inflict, Romney, will get my vote. At least he can read a balance sheet and talk in a non-adversarial way with people who play the game of life with their own money.

Four more years of Obama is too great a price to pay for the excision of Romney from public life.

#3 Comment By reflectionephemeral On July 9, 2012 @ 6:54 pm

What you’re describing in this post is the rise of Southern Strategy rhetoric.

The Southern Strategy, formulated by Nixon advisers in response to the rise of the Dixiecrats, recast white populism by fusing it to libertarian-sounding talking points. White populism in the US today is resentment of the Other, in lieu of morality or practicality. The point of the resentment is the resentment.

As Pat Buchanan wrote in his 1971 memo to Richard Nixon, working to heighten whites’ resentment about “the elitism and quasi-anti-Americanism of the National Democratic Party” would “cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half.”

In 1971, that was a tactical gambit. Today, it’s the alpha and the omega of Republican rhetoric, policy proposals, and legislative effort.

That’s why the GOP gave a favorable hearing at its 2004 convention to a man claiming that “our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats’ manic obsession to bring down our Commander-in-Chief.” White populists perceived the government to be targeting outsiders, so they rallied around it. Today, of course, being a Republican means hating the policies that most Republican politicians proposed on health insurance reform for 20 years.

That’s why Mitt Romney has a series of lies– notably the “apology tour” lie– at the center of his campaign, and why he doesn’t propose any policies. He knows that white resentment could propel him to the presidency. Any policy, no matter how standard-issue Republican in origin, could be decried tomorrow as socialist fascism by Rush Limbaugh and John Boehner. So Romney doesn’t offer policy proposals.

A man without beliefs is a perfect fit for a party with no principles.

#4 Comment By Maria On July 9, 2012 @ 8:08 pm

The ONE candidate that is the most conservative of the bunch – and the one that at least lasted to the end, unlike all of the other boobs the GOP put up – the ONE man with a coherent plan to get the country economically back on track – – the ONLY one -and you didn’t even mention him. Not once.

#5 Comment By Sheldon On July 9, 2012 @ 8:25 pm

“People who play the game of life with their own money”? Mr. Meehan, surely you jest. Kranish and Helman’s recent biography, The Real Romney, describes all the huge financial and corporate-job assurances Romney demanded and got before he would take the job at Bain. He took no risk at all. Nor, given the way Bain operated, did his investors play “with their own money.” I have never understood the fantasies you and other conservatives have entertained from the first day of his presidency about the “damage” Obama will inflict, but if your highest moral value is something devised by Ayn Rand, a parasite like Romney is not your guy.

#6 Comment By K H Acton On July 9, 2012 @ 9:30 pm

You do realize that Weber’s theory about “the Calvinists of old” has little basis in historical fact and it’s a bit offensive to those who share their faith, do you?

#7 Comment By Thomas O. Meehan On July 10, 2012 @ 1:36 am

I comment that Romney is the best of bad bargain and for this, I’m called a Randian. How much damage does Obama have to do before you’ll grant that he’s likely to do more.

#8 Comment By Sheldon On July 10, 2012 @ 9:24 am

Ah, yes, Obama, who wasted the first two years of his administration trying to compromise with Republicans – even as, unbeknownst to him, Republican leaders met secretly at the very beginning of his administration and swore not to cooperate with him on anything – is the great divider. Romney, on the other hand, who never had a financially needy second in his entire life and who is clueless about, say, the fact that for some 22% of Social Security recipients depend entirely on Social Security for their income – yes, he will be the great unifier. Sounds like Planet Randia to me.

#9 Comment By Sean Scallon On July 10, 2012 @ 10:02 am

It’s only on rare occasions that political parties nominate the most ideological candidates for President. The desire to find the “best candidate” to win in November often trumps ideology as it did in this case for Romney. Only on a few occasions through extraordinary circumstances do parties indulge themselves to try and make a point and the results sometimes have been disastrous enough to discourage it. In this way, Presidential primary voters fashion themselves as savy as political bosses in picking the “best candidate”.

In relation to this, Republican Presidential primary voters since 1940 nationally tend to swing between two poles within the party the charismatic and the pragmatic (or since 1964 the “Revolution” and “Status Quo”). After the charismatic Wendell Willkie in 1940 came the wooden Thomas Dewey in 1944 and ’48. Then came the more charismatic Dwight Eisenhower in ’52 and ’56 followed by the more staid Nixon in ’60. His defeat led to Goldwater in “64 followed by Nixon-Ford from’ 68-76. Then came the charismatic Reagan from 1980-88 transitioning over to the less than colorful Bush I in ’88 and ’92. Interjecting itself in this swing has been Republican takeovers of Congress by “revolutionaries” in 1994 and 2010. However these events have resulted in less than charismatic nominees for President with Dole in ’96 after the Republican Revolution of ‘1994 and now Romney after the Tea Party Overthrow of 2010. I would argue the debt ceiling crisis of 2011, much like the Government Shutdown of 1995, basically position the nomination for the charismatically challenged Romney as it did Dole as primary voters stepped back from “revolution”. One could also argue the Clinton Impeachment fiasco of 1999 helped to position Bush II for the GOP nomination in 2000.

Of course it should be pointed out Mitt Romney didn’t start getting his first majority of GOP primary or caucus voters (outside heavily Mormon states like Idaho and Nevada or being on the ballot alone with Ron Paul in Virginia) until late April when Santorum stopped his campaign. Divide and conquer once again helped Romney as it did McCain as it did Dole and Bush I before him. So those on the Right will once again will play pretend when it comes to enthusiasm for GOP nominee, or pretend the “movement” conservative who becomes the Vice-Presidential pick (Jindal-Palin-Kemp-Quayle) is really the top of the ticket and after Election Day will say such-and-such GOP nominee wasn’t conservative enough and the forget the man ever existed in the first place.

So to answer the question who or what is responsible for Romney’s nomination, the answer is the ideological Right or the Conservative Establishment inability to be united and coherent enough to present one candidate with a coherent platform to stand on to run against a presumably non-ideological candidate back by the party establishment. Since Reagan what we’ve gotten are GOP presidential fields with so many candidates who either have nothing to say other than “movement” agit-prop which has become stale as past-buy milk, have no regional or other obvious bases of support, and whose qualifications for the job are so dubious as to make a laughing stock of elections to begin with. Yet merrily they run, more often than not looking to get a piece of the lucrative action offered by Conservative INC. with radio/TV gig or book deals or to set themselves up as vice-presidential nominees, cabinet appointments or anything else which could come their way. In so they split the vote among conservatives to atom-sized levels so that the Bushes and Doles and McCain and now Romney find themselves GOP nominees with minority percentages of actual primary voters until the other candidates all drop out.
And they will apologize for this awful situation which leaves them with nothing but Romney? Of course not. They never apologize, analyze or internalize anything. Retrospective means nothing to them, just who won the latest news cycle or twitter war. All that matters, according to Austin Bramwell is “to “see to it that the flame of pure intention is not quelched.” That and making money of course.

#10 Comment By jason On July 10, 2012 @ 11:07 am

Sheldon: I do not presume to know your politics, but when you say 22% of social security recipients depend on social security for their income, how is that Romney’s, or anyone other than the invidivual’s, fault. I am no fan of Romney, but congratulations to him for being wealthy – through his own efforts or otherwise. If an individual, throughout his working life, cannot manage to put money away for his later years that is his own fault. I somehow managed to put away money for savings, buy stock, etc as a PFC in the military. It is doable, but sacrifices must be made. Sadly, at the end of the day, those who make sacrifices throughout their life by saving, living right and not spending all they have will prove to be fools as our ever oppresive government will find ways to punish them for saving while those who spend, spend, spend will be taken care of regardless. Social security is tyrannical in nature. Why do we allow the government take our money against our will on the belief it will be there to aid us in our later years? It is a Pyramid scheme at best. I for one would agree to cut my losses, say everything I contributed is gone, and live the rest of my life without contributing to this thieving program. Until we as a nation tell our leaders they are not in control of us and to stop pretending they know best, we will continue to go down the path of subservience. We, as a nation, have become a bunch of sheep who have allowed ourselves to be wrangled by a blind, three legged sheepdog.

#11 Comment By Sheldon On July 10, 2012 @ 12:42 pm

Jason, it’s not Romney’s fault that so many people depend on Social Security to put food on their tables and a roof over their heads. It IS his fault if he supports the Ryan plan to gut Social Security and other support programs like Medicare that keep death at bay. As for your basic points – that it’s their own fault if people are poor, that Social Security is theft, and that we’re on the road to subservience – I have very little to say, except that you seem to know nothing about the consequences of unbridled capitalism, which we have in fact experienced in our history, that European countries like France and Norway have far more robust social service programs than we do and the last time I checked their citizens are quite free and outspoken, and that I would not want to live in any country organized solely along the moral principles you seem to profess.

#12 Comment By David On July 10, 2012 @ 4:56 pm

I go with the accident theory. You left off Rick Perry, who would have been the nominee if he had been able to run even a mediocre campaign.

#13 Comment By Scott Galupo On July 10, 2012 @ 9:47 pm


I did forget Rick Perry! Not sure whether I’d have included him among the “cartoon conservatives” or not 🙂

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#15 Comment By MarcV On July 11, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

I can’t believe the crap written here and in the comments. When the top 20% are paying 70% of all income taxes, it’s a bit crass to say Romney wants to raise middle class taxes and give them to the rich. How so?

In the last 3 years more people went on federal disability than took a job. Food Stamps have doubled under Obama and $14 billion was overpaid in unemployment insurance. Obama wants more people on the government dole because they turn into reliable voters.

Mitt Romney was a successful businessman not a “Wall Street operator”. Bain rescued failing businesses just as he turned around the failing Salt Lake City Olympics. He tackled corruption as Massachusetts governor and reformed patronage-laden state agencies.

If you are conservative and want to get this country moving again, you should be proud to have Mitt Romney to vote for.

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#17 Comment By Scott Galupo On July 11, 2012 @ 9:57 pm


Not to sound trivial, they’re paying that much in income taxes, because they’ve got most of the money!

#18 Pingback By How Rotten Is Romney? « Infidelworld On July 12, 2012 @ 2:14 am

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#19 Comment By Romney is a fraud On July 14, 2012 @ 1:31 am

Bain Capital was a “small group of rich people manipulating the lives of thousands of people, and taking all the money.”
–Newt Gingrich [1/9/12]

“I would just say that if Gov. Romney would like to give back all of the money he’s earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain, that I would be glad to listen to him.”
“Now, I have no doubt Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips — whether he was going to have enough of them to hand out because his company, Bain Capital, of all the jobs that they killed. I’m sure he was worried that he would run out of pink slips.”
–Rick Perry [1/9/12]

“A story of greed, playing the system for a quick buck. A group of corporate raiders led by Mitt Romney, more ruthless than Wall Street. For tens of thousands of Americans, the suffering began when Mitt Romney came to town.”
–Pro-Gingrich SuperPac [1/9/12]

#20 Comment By Christopher Herman On July 15, 2012 @ 7:40 pm

It was Gingrich who could string together coherent sentences, not Santorum. What debates were you watching?

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#22 Pingback By Daily Potpourri 7/16/12 « Tipsy Teetotaler On July 16, 2012 @ 4:59 am

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#23 Comment By TrueAmerican On August 9, 2012 @ 10:27 am

Fear of a black man still grips too much of the republican party. Sprew reversals and rebuttals all you wish, what it comes down to is that the only real problem with the POTUS (Given the fact he’s pushing YOUR ideals and plans – far from a true Democratic president) is that he is a black man.

I am a white man in his 40’s, with a wife and family. I was taught the RIGHT lessons in my youth by my parents. To respect all, and to love all.

This falls quite short in the Christian-laden Republican party.

How about you discuss your parties larger internal issues (Racism, radicalism, LIARS) – instead of trying to finger a man who has done incredible things for this country at one of the worst periods in our brief history as a nation..

He offered his hand to work with you. It was slapped, and since spat upon.

This, is your just dessert.