Post-Iowa the factoid that flashed more red and brighter than every other was this: Turn-out was barely 5% greater than four years ago. Call me crazy but I can make the argument that the press and pundit corps — always in need of something to cover and gas on about — is far more interested in the GOP primary circus than the Republicans themselves. After over a year of visits and six solid months of freak show mania, not to mention the $10-plus million Mittens Romney and Rick Perry alone dropped on Iowa media, the so-called rank and file, (in actuality the semi- and totally batshit) couldn’t muster any more anger, rage and enthusiasm than 6000 more people — out of 608,000 registered Republicans. Call it a “record turn-out” if you’re into the whole hype thing. But the percentages tell a much different story.
Since last Tuesday we’ve heard (too much) about the “Rick Santorum surge”, a sudden frothing movement which in the end presents a very odd man as viable competition for Mittens and a credible candidate for … President of the United States.
Please. Neither Santorum nor anyone else is going to get anywhere close to Romney and the nomination. As Robert Reich blogged today, Romney is if nothing else, an avatar for Citizens United. In a moment when the imbalance of wealth and influence is more vivid than any time in maybe 100 years the Republicans are moving inexorably toward another very odd guy — palpably twitchy in his own skin — who is the walking talking embodiment of “the 1%ers”. Taken further, if the Democrats want to frame the campaign as a referendum on how Republicans have responded to the beat-down of the middle-class over the past decade they could not have invented a candidate more perfect than my guy, Mittens. (My nephew in Denver uses “Mittens”. I like it. It suggests cossetting and protection against harsh elements … with a dash of parental supervision.)
You want a sense of how “odd”? Read this live-on-the-plane report from The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank.
The divide between Santorum’s social conservative crowd and Romney’s “he might be able to beat Obama” crowd is stark … deep and wide. But the social conservatives, the anti-gay, you’ll-be-marrying-turtles, or going all “man on dog” and maybe polygamist to boot bunch has no standing in Romney’s Citizens United Super PAC wonderland. Santorum’s Biblically-directed tinfoil hat brigade wouldn’t even recognize Romney’s $500k per pop hedge fund Super PAC-ers as being of the same species … and vice versa.
This of course is old news. The inevitability of Romney has been established for months, despite all the bovine bloviation on cable TV. Likewise the stunning lack of enthusiasm for Mittens.
But as this thing gets serious (post the comedy candidates like Bachmann, Cain, Trump, Palin and, hell, Rick Perry) we are getting a much better feel for … the terms of the choice.
Despite three solid years of hyperbolic messaging not even the Republican base is convinced enough that Barack Obama is a Kenyan Muslim anti-christ to drop everything and spend two hours with their like-minded neighbors voting to stop the apocalypse. More significantly, with the economy showing some actual green shoots (Mitch McConnell has to get back to D.C. and stamp that crap out ASAP!) in terms of manufacturing and employment, Obama has every good reason to double down on, as I say, a referendum on the Republican Congress … the Congress that out-nothinged the Do Nothing Congress of Harry Truman’s era … at a time when more middle class voters than ever expected it to do something … other than obstruct and play sophomoric procedural games.
I say again; clear, visible, bona fide support for the plight and interests of the middle class will be the crux of the choice. Who can make the most plausible case that they’ve done everything they can?
Romney, though not a member of Congress, is a Central Casting caricature of the class that owns Congress. I see Karl Rove is delighted to see Romney set up so well. Rove, now arguably the country’s premier Super PAC salesman has to regard a Romney presidency as a kind of restoration for him and the whole crowd of hedgie-cronies who installed and sock-puppeted George W. Bush for eight years.
This particular choice, Obama (with his billions for Super PAC) or Romney presumes that the Republican social conservatives will allow themselves to be stuffed back into their sound-proof kennels, as they are every election cycle when the Republican money machine has finished exploiting them. Given Rick Santorum’s absolute fealty to the K Street powers that restored him to an upright and lucrative position after being destroyed in his Pennsylvania reelection bid, I can’t see him playing spearchucker for a third party.
Ron Paul, 76 years old and figuring he’s riding the biggest wave he’s ever going to get, is a whole other story. The social conservatives appear to be leery of the geezerly old doctor. Legalize heroin!? But he has enough semi-anarchic, pot-loving, middle class college kids willing to rattle cages for him that he might just say, “WTF? It’s now or never!” (Lacking Paul’s fans — 21% — the Iowa turn-out would have been a complete face-plant for the party.)
At which point the geezerly doctor will get a call from one of Mittens’ and Karl Rove’s hedge fund guys offering to pay off all his campaign debts if he changes his mind … for health reasons, you understand, or to spend more time with his family.