Divide and conquer: Romney and the social conservatives

For various reasons that I have discussed, Mitt Romney was a uniquely horrible candidate to be the GOP standard bearer in 2012. He was not only a technocrat, but he lacked any sense of leadership skills. Outside of running Bain Capital, running the 1998 Winter Olympics, running against Ted Kennedy for the U.S. Senate in 1994, and an unremarkable four-year term as the governor of Massachusetts, there is very little background to discern who is Mitt Romney and what does he believe.

Before Mitt Romney ran for president in 2008, he was, based on his previous statements made as a politician from Massachusetts, a liberal. In 1994, when the Republican Revolution embraced Ronald Reagan and won convincingly around the country, Mitt Romney ran as a liberal. In his race against Ted Kennedy, Romney ended up taking both sides of the abortion question. This led Ted Kennedy to remark; “Mitt Romney isn’t just pro-choice, he’s multiple-choice.”

In 2002, Mitt Romney ran as a pro-choice Republican. In 2008, Mitt Romney ran as a pro-life Republican. For many people, especially social conservatives, “just trust me” wasn’t going to work.

In 2012, the Democrats ran a strange ( at the time) GOP War On Woman campaign. It made very little sense. That is, until Todd Akin, the GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate in Missouri, made the ridiculous claim that women could not get pregnant from “legitimate” rape. Romney did not respond. Republican politicians and movement conservatives demanded Todd Akin step down and allow someone else to run for the U.S. Senate. Todd Akin refused. Todd Akin lost his race by almost 16 points. It was a disaster that could have been averted.

Two weeks before the election, Richard Mourdock, running for the U.S. Senate from Indiana made a comment during a debate that was deliberately twisted by his opponent to say that “rape was a gift from God”. An examination of Mourdock’s statement shows that he had said ‘life, resulting from a rape, was a gift from God’. In response to the manufactured firestorm, the Romney campaign released the following statement: “Gov. Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock’s comments, and they do not reflect his views”. Richard Mourdock lost his race by 5 ½ points.

The vote totals from both states reflect an interesting trend. In Missouri, Obama received 286,175 less votes than 2008. Mitt Romney received 34,136 more votes than John McCain in 2008. In Indiana, Obama received 217,446 less votes than 2008. Romney received 70,522 more votes than John McCain in 2008.
It should be noted that Obama ran his campaign with abortion rights being the centerpiece of said campaign. I submit that Romney’s silence in Missouri and his rebuke of Mourdoch’s position in Indiana gave social conservatives the reason to stay home on election day. Romney made many egregious tactical errors. He ceded the foreign-policy debate to Obama and he took the social conservatives for granted after selecting Ryan as his VP candidate. He, and his political team, could not and would not make a reasonable and definitive argument to assuage the skeptics within the social conservatives. The more the Obama campaign promoted abortion rights, the Romney campaign responded with economic issues and promises. Obama conquered Romney by dividing the GOP base. Romney was all too willing to drive that bus.

One final note on the Indiana race. Mourdoch defeated the incumbent Richard Lugar in the primary. Lugar never endorsed or campaigned for Mourdoch in the general election. It would be safe to say the petulance of Lugar and his supporters played a greater role in defeating Mourdoch than anything Mourdoch said in the last two weeks of his campaign. Divide and conquer, indeed.



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