The right eloquence needs no bell to call the people together and no constable to keep them. ~ Emerson

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Candidate Who's Near

Mitt Romney Can Win Iowa But Not Republican Hearts

My heart's in a pickle,
It's constantly fickle
And not too partickle, I fear.
When I'm not near the girl I love,
I love the girl I'm near.

One of the characters in the whimsical Broadway musical Finian’s Rainbow is a leprechaun named Og, whose pot of gold is stolen by the show’s title character. Og is anxious to get his gold back because its absence is transformational, literally changing him from magical creature to mortal being. He fears losing his powers and identity. Unfortunately for Og, his burgeoning humanity stirs romantic impulses and he falls hopelessly in love with Finian’s vivacious daughter, Sharon.

At least somebody loves him –
GOP Presidential candidate Mitt
Romney is hugged by his wife
after co-winning the Iowa Caucuses
Yet by the end of the story, Og has settled down with Susan, a mute girl so reserved and bland she was largely unnoticed by all. The reason for the switch is that Sharon does not reciprocate Og’s feelings. Caught up in her own problems, she pays him little heed. That leaves no eligible girl around but “Susan the Silent.” Therefore, in a combination of pragmatism and desperation, Og forsakes the girl he loves in order to love the girl who is available and marriageable. He explains his predicament and adopted solution in the song, When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love.

Og seems a fine metaphor for Republican voters. They want to regain the White House after losing it in 2008. They see this as a transformational moment, with America’s descent from a world power into socialism hanging in the balance. In order to do so, they must commit to a GOP candidate as their nominee. Much like Og, they keep falling in love only to find rejection.

Republicans have just completed the Iowa Caucuses, the first formal step in their 2012 Presidential Primary season. The result was a virtual tie between erstwhile frontrunner Mitt Romney and a surging Rick Santorum, with a surging Ron Paul a close second. Actually, Santorum and Paul are but the latest is a long line of GOP surgers.

The first sweetheart was Michele Bachmann, who GOP voters hoped could work a little Sarah Palin north woods magic again. Alas, she was all nowhere and no bridge. Then voters swooned over Rick Perry’s executive experience, Christian values, and big hair. Sadly, he proved unable to defend his own positions among his peers and had too many “senior moments” for a man of only sixty-one years.

Next, voters flirted with Herman Cain, drawn to his bad-boy outsider status and CEO experience. They left in droves when he proved better cast in Felini’s than his own 9-9-9. He just wasn’t the kind of candidate you brought home to meet mother . . . unless you wanted him to date her. Finally, voters returned to an old flame in Newt Gingrich. He was a legitimate GOP elephant, rather than a RINO, but he had too much trunk (i.e. baggage).

Given all this, one might think Santorum and/or Paul are the “candidate who’s near” – a fickle Republican electorate’s latest passion. However, the key is the key here is that Santorum and Paul, like the others before them, inspire actual passion in voters’ breasts. It is actually the lackluster but omnipresent Romney cast in this role. Voters like him, they just don’t “like” like him. Even his Mormonism is un-exotic – he is Donny Osmond with less charisma (if that is imaginable).

Voter polling by NBC News and other groups confirms this phenomenon. Romney did best among affluent non-Evangelical moderates over forty-five years old, especially senior citizens. In short, he appealed to the same traditional Republican establishment that long has been his base. He did not make necessary in-roads among other Republicans. Santorum took the far right and social conservatives. Paul won young Republicans, poor Republicans, and libertarians.

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus got similar results when informally talking with voters in Johnston Iowa. Those backing Santorum, Paul, and Gingrich used words like “prefer,” “heart,” “excitement,” and “change” when describing reasons for backing their candidates. Romney supporters were more likely to mention “most electable” and “most likely to win” for their reasons.

There is some good news for Romney out of Iowa. In 2008, he invested huge amounts of time and money in the state, only to finish a disappointing second that virtually knocked him out of the race. In 2012, he gave it far less attention and drew the same percentage of the vote for a first place tie. This suggests he has created a well-established brand among voters if not necessarily a growing one.

The other good news for Romney is that if he prevails in the primaries, he will face a candidate in the general election who is far less beloved by his Democratic base than in 2008. Obama is also the “candidate who’s near” for many liberals. This is even truer for Independent voters, likely to play a key role once again in choosing a Presidential victor.

However, this is where Iowa has bad news for Romney again. Paul was the big winner among self-described Independents and first-time voters (including Democrats participating in Republican caucuses), garnering forty-three percent of this group. Romney is never going to win the Republican nomination and the Presidency by being a consensus candidate about whom everybody is apathetic.

Romney picked up an endorsement yesterday from 2008 Republican candidate Senator John McCain of Arizona. This seems a mixed blessing at best. For many archconservatives, McCain is the poster boy for what can go wrong when they place electability above purity and principles. In today’s Wall Street Journal, columnist Daniel Henninger declares, “The Republican divider is the Party's frontrunner, Mitt Romney.” It cannot be a pleasant position for Romney and it cannot be a pleasant situation for Republican voters either.

Og the leprechaun ultimately gave up attempting to retrieve his gold, deciding that being human is not so bad after all. Of course, that is because he was willing to settle. Republicans seem poised to settle too. They just do not seem to be especially willing.  And Romney waits quietly in the wings as the candidate who's near.

For Sharon I'm carin',
But Susan I'm choosin'
I'm faithful to whos'n is here.
When I'm not near the girl I love,
I love the girl I'm near.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Republicans who equate Obama with socialism are either lying or delusional, not that those are mutually exclusive. The guy is about as much a Socialist as Herbert Hoover was. That it's a concern for the delusional and a drumbeat for the liars should convey everything one needs to know about the current state of the GOP.