Okay, Santorum and Gingrich didn’t get a bump out of their debates over the weekend. More like the bump got them.
I still think my Saturday night post accurately reflected the national impressions, though. That’s backed up by this CBS News poll that shows Republicans believe Santorum most closely shares their values, but—and this is a J Lo but—they believe Romney is more electable.
Romney and Santorum bring different perceived strengths to the race as well. Romney is viewed as most electable (and most likely to be the eventual nominee), while Santorum is seen as the candidate who best represents these voters' values - up 17 points since November. Romney is right behind him on this measure.
I have to disagree with their judgment on Romney. Here’s why.
To win, the Republican nominee must do two things: 1) generate more energy within his base than Obama, and 2) he must attract the people who don’t trust unlimited government, but don’t necessarily care for the conservative base, either.
Ronald Reagan did that. Reagan won the support of many center-right factions:
- Defense hawks (Cold Warriors)
- Religious right (Moral Majority)
- Fiscal conservatives (Supply Siders)
- Strict constructionists (Constitutionalists)
- Blue collar families (Reagan Democrats)
- Independents (independents)
But Romney isn’t Reagan. Romney is much more like John McCain, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, and Gerald Ford—the last four Republicans to lose a presidential election.
The reason those four lost wasn’t because they were bad men. They were good men. And it wasn’t really because their policies were out of step with most voters. In fact, their policies were more reflective of America than those of their opponents.
The reason McCain, Dole, Bush, and Ford lost to Obama, Clinton, Clinton, and Carter was because they failed to pull together that broad conservative coalition. But the biggest reason they lost was that they failed to convince the last two—so-called Reagan Democrats and independents—that they offered a choice. And they failed to inspire the base to spend their vacation pounding the pavement or making calls.
A WSJ story today reveals some crucial facts:
Today's Republican Party has become steadily more blue-collar, more populist and more influenced by voters who act as much like independents as Republicans. All that makes the idea of attacks on capitalist behavior arising from the traditional party of capitalists a little less bizarre.
• Three-quarters of those who voted in the New Hampshire Republican primary had family incomes below $100,000, early exit polls indicated. Almost half had no college degree.
• In a stunning sign of how loose party affiliations have become, almost half of those who turned out to vote in the Republican primary actually identified themselves as independent voters. Big chunks of them went for Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., the least-conventional of the GOP candidates.
• Nationally, when the thousands of interviews conducted in last year's Wall Street Journal/NBC News polls are combined, Americans who call themselves blue-collar workers actually were slightly more likely to identify themselves as Republicans than as Democrats.
• And when the Journal/NBC News poll asked Americans in November who was responsible for the country's current economic problems, Republicans were precisely as likely as Democrats to blame "Wall Street bankers."
When blue collar families and independents see establishment Republicans, they figure they might as well vote the Democrat who will at least throw them some largesse.
There a many Americans who want government fixed. They want the Fed managed at least, if not dissolved. They are willing to go through the pain of winding down entitlement programs and realigning powers of the states to Constitutional intent.
But they won’t go for half measures that create a bunch of pain and confusion but resolve nothing,eliminate no unconstitutional program, shut down no counter-productive cabinet department, and create new layers of bureaucracy through which we all must wade.
Maybe the blue collar voters and independents are wrong about establishment Republicans. Maybe I am, too. And maybe so many people find Obama dangerous (I do) and anti-American (I do) that they will vote for anyone the GOP nominates. Our desire to avoid bad things is very powerful.
Then again, our desire to move toward good things is important. If the only choice we on the right offer non-aligned voters is the lesser of two evils, Obama will be win re-election.
There is no Reagan on the horizon, no Shane character to ride into town and save the day. We have a choice between Romney, Paul, Santorum, and Gingrich. Among those last three, I see none with a distinct advantage in gaining the nomination. Unless two quit. Soon.
But the larger problem is with the party itself. Its establishment seems to have no idea how to inspire, and its insurgents have no idea how to team up.