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The Loathsome Romney Candidacy: How Did We Get Here?

Scott McConnell makes an interesting point 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.

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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. 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. 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.

Most decisive is what I’ve been calling 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 into the temple. Like the Calvinists of old, 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.

about the author

Scott Galupo is a freelance writer living in Arlington, Va. In addition to contributing to The American Conservative, he writes for TheWeek.com and reviews live music for The Washington Post. He was formerly a staff writer for The Washington Times and worked on Capitol Hill. He lives with his wife and two children and writes about politics to support his guitar habit.

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