Posts Tagged ‘Mitt Romney’

Mitt Romney and the need for fringe belief entrepreneurship

Christian media plays a prominent role in supplementing the influence of conservatism and Republicanism. Belief that vaccines can cause autism is not predicted by political identity, but could Christian media be home to the leading edge of right-wing belief generation?

Mitt Romney’s campaign took kind of an odd turn this week — odd even in the context of this campaign. They sent out a mailer in northern Virginia touting Romney’s plan to deal with the epidemic of… Lyme disease. This was not merely one line item in the mailer, it was the whole point: “What can a president do about Lyme disease?” asks the cover side, with the interior calling it a “massive epidemic threatening Virginia.” Virginia had 9.3 cases per 100,000 people in 2011, just above the national average of 7.8. Needless to say, this is an addition to the campaign agenda, and I’d wager an addition to campaign agendas in general going back a long, long time, and maybe forever. George Bush declared a Lyme Disease Awareness Week back in the summer of 1990, which is probably the closest it’s ever come to being a campaign issue.

The Romney mailer suggests a few ways that Romney will end the scourge of Lyme disease. First, “improve synergy.” Sure, sounds good. Second, “increase awareness.” This mailer sure has him off to a good start! Finally, “support treatment.” The interior of the mailer makes clear that supporting treatment is primarily about tort reform, because doctors who might get sued for malpractice can’t effectively treat Lyme disease. A friend suggested to me that this is really the point of this weird strategy, but I’m skeptical. The GOP desire for tort award caps is not something that is sublimated in any way — they’re open about it and they talk about it a lot. So why put out this odd mailer where tort reform is buried in one phrase of an interior bullet point, if tort reform is the point?

Simon van Zuylen-Wood, guest-blogging at Political Animal, had the same initial reaction I did: it’s about dog-whistling the Christian right. First, Virginia and its evangelical governor, Bob McDonnell, have actually been pushing Lyme disease prevention for the last couple years. McDonnell put together a Lyme disease task force headed by the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, rather than, say, a scientist. Apparently Romney’s desire to “get the CDC out of the way” resonated with this guy and now they’re pals.

This narrative is based on some nice dot-connecting among all these individuals and institutions, and it’s well worth reading the whole thing. My impression, on the other hand, comes largely from following and studying fringe beliefs over the last several years, and specifically from a study I conducted last fall. This is data I presented at MAPOR last year, and will follow up this year. One of the beliefs I examined in that study was the belief that vaccines can cause autism, and unlike some other science-related beliefs (climate change, evolution), there was absolutely no effect of ideology and partisanship. There was also no effect of using partisan political media. There was, however, a significant effect of using Christian media, that positively predicted belief in the autism-causing power of vaccines. To the extent that this belief is rising up, it’s happening in a venue that has little traction in mainstream social and political discourse. This is nothing new for American fringe beliefs — when Dr. Strangelove‘s Commander Ripper expressed concern over our “precious bodily fluids,” that was a satire of contemporary fringe concerns nearly 50 years ago.

So I find myself wondering if what Romney’s doing here is trying to innovate in the domain of fringe issues, playing on a right-wing Christian health and government paranoia. For a campaign still trying to solidify its base, and desperately in need of something to change the election’s trajectory, that kind of enterprise campaigning has a lot of upside and carries little risk. If it makes the campaign look kooky and generates some laughs on the national level, so be it — people are laughing anyway.

Filed: We R in Control || 12:13, September 30 || No Comments »

Rick Santorum’s home turf is blue

This crazy blue football field is home to as many national championships as Republican nominations that Rick Santorum will win.

Mitt Romney lost two more states yesterday, finishing third in both Alabama and Mississippi. Rick Santorum won both states, which were seen as Newt Gingrich’s last chance at relevance; he’s apparently pressing on regardless, though it certainly seems that doing so hurts Santorum much more than it does Romney. Despite lackluster performances in strongly conservative states, Romney’s still basically on track to secure the nomination at some point, but it’s probably going to take winning some of the big, winner-take-all states later in the calendar. That means there’s theoretically still time for a Santorum miracle — he needs to win a significant majority of remaining delegates to actually secure the nomination before the convention — or that we could be heading for the ultimate Washington press corps fantasy, the brokered convention.

As Ed Kilgore notes, relaying comments from Jonathan Bernstein, party elites retain considerable power in the nominating process. They want Romney, and they have for a long time. Whatever happens in traditional primary states, there are enough delegates chosen at county- and state-level conventions (that is, the later parts of the caucuses that actually matter) to keep things slouching toward Romney if the voters don’t come through. But what happens if the party bigwigs change their minds? What might make Santorum suddenly palatable?

Romney’s big selling point has always been electability, and it’s been especially prominent since he’s had to focus on an opponent whose last election was a 17-point loss. But the more he tries to balance appeals to the far-right of the GOP primary electorate and general-election moderation, the tougher it becomes to secure his own base going into the general election. With the economy picking up and Barack Obama looking like more of a favorite, GOP elites might start thinking not just about who they want as President (it’s still Romney, and will continue to be), but also about damage-mitigation in the event of a loss. I don’t think there’s any question that a Santorum loss to Obama is better than a Romney loss for the future of the Republican Party; frankly, a Romney loss could lead to the kind of intra-partisan shake-up we haven’t seen since the Dixiecrats switched sides. That he wasn’t conservative enough to win would be the rallying cry of the right going into Obama’s second term and the 2014 and 2016 campaigns. A Santorum loss wouldn’t necessarily push the party back toward the center, but it would provide leverage for those trying to pull it there.

But let’s be clear: A flood of elite abandoning Romney for Santorum is the only way Santorum wins the nomination. Romney might not win it cleanly or anytime soon, but if the party chiefs want him, they’ll find a way to get him before the convention. The brokered convention dream is an illusion in modern politics, in much the same way the small-conference national college football champion dream is an illusion pursued by so many sports reporters and pundits. Like the Boise State Broncos, Rick Santorum can only win if the system wants him to win, and right now it doesn’t.

Filed: We R in Control || 16:07, March 14 || No Comments »

Who will Huntsman endorse?

Jon Huntsman isn’t going to win the presidency next year. He’s also not going to win the Republican presidential nomination, and he probably won’t even win the primary in his home state of Utah — a July poll gives Mitt Romney 63% to Huntsman’s 10%. He was Barack Obama’s ambassador to China, and he’s spent most of his time in the campaign first meekly and then aggressively declaring his moderate bona fides. So why is he in the race? Some have speculated that he’s just trying to raise name-recognition for a 2016 run, likely against a crowd of lower-profile opponents. Others suggest he’s running for the VP nomination in 2012. Presumably conventional wisdom doesn’t find him cynical enough to think he’s running just to land a book deal in 2013.

As it happens, I don’t really care why he’s running. When his campaign ends, it’ll just be another data-point in the history of failed presidential runs. What I’m really interested in is the question of who Huntsman will endorse. It’s clear that Huntsman is not happy with where his party and most of its presidential candidates are at policy-wise. He’s recently come out of the science closet with strong, counter-partisan statements of belief in both evolution and anthropomorphic climate change. The Republican most like him is Mitt Romney, who’s been running hard to the right of late, but Huntsman has recently gone after him for both his lack of any coherent belief structure and his terrible record on job creation.

Assume Huntsman wins few delegates and Romney cleanly secures the nomination. Romney’s core technocratic self is probably not that different from Huntsman’s, but a President Romney would be seriously indebted to the GOP fringes that Huntsman is trying to reassert the center-right’s dominance over. On the other hand, the next most Huntsman-like candidate will also be on the general election ballot in 2012 — Barack Obama. Huntsman went after Obama recently, as well, but it was a fairly tepid assault, claiming that he should’ve taken to the bully pulpit earlier, that he’s “too far left” and that he ought to quit using teleprompters. That’s some tired, easy stuff, with none of the oomph found in what he’s said recently about Romney, Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry. So what’s the likelihood that he endorses Obama? “President Obama and I have our differences, but he is the only candidate taking our dire economic situation seriously, blah blah blah.” Huntsman’s main constituency is the Washington press corps, and he must know that this is the kind of thing that would make a big splash with them, both at the time and when he does whatever he does next.

Now, to be clear, I don’t think Huntsman’s endorsement will matter, but as the Republican party continues its rightward march, I do think it’s interesting to watch what its few remaining moderates might do to try to regain control. Elite signalling that even a technocratic nominee is too beholden to the fringe would only be a first step, but it’s a step.

Filed: We R in Control || 14:47, August 21 || 1 Comment »

Romney’s slalom toward the White House

Josh Marshall notes that Mitt Romney has given a thumbs-up to Paul Ryan’s plan to end Medicare:

Two contenders, Pawlenty and Daniels, haven’t done more than say kind things in general. But most have said they’re down with it. And Mitt Romney in particular has signed on for the whole thing — which means he’ll go into the 2012 primary and possibly the general election as supporting the abolition of Medicare. And that’s a tough thing to carry, as it should be.

I’m going to be really curious to see what sort of follow-up questions he gets on that position and if anybody is able to get a clearer statement out of Pawlenty on this critical issue.

My guess? No follow-up questions of any sort, unless the impossible happens and Ryan’s flight of fancy becomes a real bill. We’re presently about eight and a half months from the first ballots being cast in the 2012 primaries, and probably six months from the general public paying much attention. Anything that a candidates says now, but doesn’t want to revisit later, about an early-2011 proposal that goes nowhere will simply disappear.

But still, Romney makes an interesting case to watch in this context. He has famously held every position on many issues, and gained favor among elites for his technocratic seriousness. My own view of the 2012 race is that a Romney nomination requires him to consolidate the remaining “serious” Republican technocrats, while the other candidates fight over the far right. There are a lot of voters on the far right, but if even two strong candidates persevere over there, Romney can likely win what he needs for the nomination. And my supposition is that, for the technocrats that make up Romney’s base, what he says doesn’t really matter. They know his political operation based on its personnel, not his public statements, and they know how he’ll govern because he’s just like them — the new H.W. Bush that we the party and the country so desperately need. If he has to say he likes the idea of killing Medicare, or that Ryan’s near-future projection of 3% unemployment is reasonable, well, what candidate hasn’t had to say some silly things to get elected? This could actually be a benefit for Romney, because due to his past flip-floppery, nobody is likely to believe he actually supports the Ryan plan anyway. Once he secures the nomination, he can get the party in line and we’ll just quit talking about such ridiculous things.

Filed: We R in Control || 11:52, April 14 || No Comments »