When the primary results started coming in last night, James Carville put a post up on CNN.com that deserves attention. Here is how it began:
A long time ago a great three-time governor of Louisiana, Earl Long, said about Jimmie Davis, the two-time not very good governor of Louisiana, "You couldn't wake up Jimmie Davis with an earthquake."
As I go around the country and see various Democrats and talk to them on the phone, honestly I'm beginning to think that we have become the party of Jimmie Davis.
Carville’s point was simple. “Wake the you-know-what up, there is an earthquake. You think that Democrats around the country are going to win -- as I hear time and time again from people on the street. Democratic fundraisers, activists, supporters, and even politicians alike have somehow collectively lapsed into the sentiment that the president is going to be reelected and that we have a good shot to take the House back while holding the Senate. I ask: What are you smoking? What are you drinking? What are you snorting or just what in the hell are you thinking? Look around the world -- do you see any governments or incumbents winning any elections out there? Did it happen in small elections in Germany or Britain, big elections in France and Greece or how about huge elections in the United States in 2008 and 2010? Please folks -- wake up!”
He is surely right. In November, there is going to be an earthquake, if Mitt Romney and the Republicans have the wit to take advantage of it. Obama and the Democrats are going to go the way of Sarkozy and the Gaullists in France and of PASOK and New Democracy in Greece. If you have any doubts, look at what happened yesterday in Indiana and West Virginia. In the former, a thirty-year-veteran of the Senate was defeated in his fight for re-nomination by his own party by a margin of twenty percent. In the latter, a convict residing in a federal prison and running for the Democratic Presidential nomination against Barack Obama received forty-one percent of the vote. These were anticipatory tremors, and they ought to wake up Mitt Romney and those staffing his campaign. It proves a point I have made repeatedly in the last three years: We are not living in normal times, and the conventional wisdom does not apply.
In normal circumstances, the rule of thumb is that one runs to the right in the Republican primaries, and one then moves to the center for the general election. That is surely what Romney’s team – with its Etch-a-Sketch planning – has in mind. They and he are the exemplars of conventional thinking. They believe that the American people are half-asleep and stupid to boot. Watch this video if you have any doubts, and weigh the fact that Eric Fehrnstrom is still a senior adviser to the Romney campaign:
There is one problem with Fehrnstrom’s calculation. Those most likely to vote in November are not half-asleep, and they are not stupid. As a consequence, in today’s circumstances, the center cannot hold. Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid have polarized American politics. They did so deliberately, and they woke up the American people and paid a terrible political price.
When the so-called stimulus package was jammed through the House and Senate early in February, 2009, the Democrats did not court Republican votes. Instead, they spurned them. In a spirit of vengeance, Pelosi denied the Republicans earmarks in the package, and, with a single exception, the Republicans in the House got their backs up and voted against it.
Obama, Pelosi, and Reid conducted affairs in the same high-handed manner when they forced through Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. The result was not only that they stirred up the Tea-Party Movement. It was also that they put the Republicans in a perfect position to absorb and profit from that impulse. They took a party ready to jump on the bandwagon and gave it the semblance of backbone.
I say that the Republicans were ready to jump on the bandwagon, and I use the word “semblance” for a reason. Three years ago, on 2 May 2009, well after the Tea Party had gotten off the ground, Jeb Bush met with Eric Cantor and Mitt Romney at a pizza parlor in Arlington, Virginia to launch the National Council for a New America. According to The Washington Times, in his remarks,
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Saturday that it’s time for the Republican Party to give up its “nostalgia” for the heyday of the Reagan era and look forward, even if it means stealing the winning strategy deployed by Democrats in the 2008 election.
“You can’t beat something with nothing, and the other side has something. I don’t like it, but they have it, and we have to be respectful and mindful of that,” Mr. Bush said.
The former president’s brother, often mentioned as a potential candidate in 2012, said President Obama’s message of hope and change during the 2008 campaign clearly resonated with Americans.
“So our ideas need to be forward looking and relevant. I felt like there was a lot of nostalgia and the good old days in the [Republican] messaging. I mean, it’s great, but it doesn’t draw people toward your cause,” Mr. Bush said.
This was a message intended for the Tea Party, and at the time neither Romney nor Cantor distanced themselves from what Jeb Bush had to say. They wanted no part in the eruption taking place.
It comes, then, as no surprise that, on 30 July 2009, Romney made a concerted attempt to get on board with Obama, penning an op-ed for USA Today, offering the President Republican cooperation in forging a federal healthcare plan for the country modeled on Romneycare. “Republicans,” he promised, “will join with the Democrats if the president abandons his government insurance plan, if he endeavors to craft a plan that does not burden the nation with greater debt, if he broadens his scope to reduce health costs for all Americans, and if he is willing to devote the rigorous effort, requisite time and bipartisan process that health care reform deserves.”
It was not until early August 2009, when ordinary citizens began showing up at Town Hall meetings to denounce the various healthcare proposals under discussion that Republicans, such as Charles Grassley of Iowa, began to recognize that they could not simply ignore or dismiss the concerns raised by the Tea-Party Movement. And even then – as I demonstrated two months ago in a post entitled What Does Mitt Romney Really Think? – Romney was behind the curve.
I would like to believe that Romney finally gets it – that he recognizes that we are living at an abnormal moment in which the old rules do not apply. And maybe he does. But there is clear evidence that the Republicans do not.
I heard a talk at Hillsdale earlier this month on healthcare reform. It was delivered by the point man on this subject in the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives. The proposal that he was pushing was nothing more than a revised version of Romneycare. This time, there was no individual mandate, however. This time, in its place, there was a tax break for those getting health insurance that was meant to serve the same function by herding us all into the arms of the health insurance industry. To get an idea of what the Republicans have in mind, take a look at the new plan cooked up by the social engineers at the Heritage Foundation, and keep in mind the fact that its authors are the very folks who invented the individual mandate back in the early 1990s.
Here is another indication of what the Republican establishment is up to. In the last couple of weeks, the Young Guns Network run by two aides of Eric Cantor was caught supporting the campaign of Richard Lugar to the tune of more than $100,000. In one mailer, Cantor’s minions urged Democrats to vote in the open Republican primary for the octogenarian, attacking his opponent for wanting to shut down the Department of Education. In another, they attacked Richard Mourdock on environmental grounds. Who needs Democrats, one might ask, when you have the Young Guns of the Republican Party?
James Carville thinks that, if the Democrats pull up their socks, they can still win in November. When his fellow Democrats argue that Mitt Romney is a pathetic candidate, he responds,
Actually pathetic is a kind word for Romney and this campaign. Mitt Romney is to presidential campaigns as the Delta House grade point average was to Faber College -- the worst in history. I mean, my God, when you hold a press conference to rebut charges that you have a Cold War mentality and then you have foreign policy "experts" talk about Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union in "contemporary" terms -- really?
I know that the Swiss and Cayman Island bank accounts drive swing voters and independents over the edge. I've gotten all of the reports from focus group moderators as to how devastating this is to Romney.
Why a man who knows he is running for president (who claims to know something about the American economy) would for any reason keep money in offshore accounts, I have no idea. And I know that we are going to take him out to the cornfield (like at the end of the movie "Casino") on the Ryan budget.
However, I fear that all of this will not be enough unless we have real change of attitude about the difficult campaign ahead of us. It has been said that, "Nothing so focuses a man's attention as the prospect of being hanged." Look around Democrats -- Come November lets make sure that it's Mitt and his bunch at the end of that figurative rope and not us.
I think that Carville underestimates Mitt Romney’s strengths. Yes, indeed, Romney has his weaknesses, and, yes, he lives to some extent in a bubble. No one in his right mind who wants to be President of the United States would have offshore bank accounts. I am certain that Romney is innocent of wrongdoing. He is a decent, honest, generous man. But appearances matter, and when it comes to understanding how the rest of us see the world, Romney is clueless.
In ordinary times, this would be fatal to his candidacy. In the end, however, I doubt very much whether anyone will much care this year. When people are thinking about the economy, the deficit, and Obamacare, it will be hard for the Obama campaign to demonize an earnest, sober, obviously honest, good-looking turnaround artist like Mitt Romney.
But if Mitt Romney and the Republican candidates really want to win – above all, if they want to be able to govern after winning – they will have to recognize that 2010 was a far better indicator of what is possible in 2012 than was 2008. When the mainstream media falls silent, we are all apt to forget. But, in 2010, the Republicans on the state level showed a strength that they had not demonstrated since 1928, and they did so because, at least rhetorically, they embraced the principles of limited government. To sustain what they began in 2010, they will have to do more than pay lip service to the principles underpinning the American regime. They will have to articulate those principles and accentuate the differences distinguishing them from the party that openly and enthusiastically embraces the administrative entitlements state.
The Republicans of Indiana and forty-one percent of the Democrats in West Virginia voted yesterday to say that they have had enough – that they want things changed. How long will it take the Republican politicians in this country to catch up with the American people? If Mitt Romney makes it clear that he understands, he will win by a landslide, and the Republicans will take the Senate, perhaps with sixty or more seats, and gain further strength in the House. If he runs a timid, milquetoast campaign, as is his wont, everything will be up for grabs. If he offers the American people a choice, they will make it. If he hints that he is not really a Republican, that he is a progressive just like the Democrats, as he did when he ran for the Senate and for the Governorship in Massachusetts, he might squeak by. And, then again, he might lose. No one warms to a tepid candidate.