I've spent the past few days debating right-wingers — among them, Grover Norquist and Ann Coulter. This isn't my idea of fun. I do it because apparently many Americans find these people persuasive, and it seems important to try to show why they're profoundly wrong.
There are two major theories about why Romney is dropping in the polls. One is Romney is a lousy candidate, unable to connect with people or make his case.
The second is that Americans are finally beginning to see how radical the GOP has become, and are repudiating it.
Many Republicans — including some of the right-wingers I've been debating — hold to the first view, for obvious reasons. If Romney fails to make a comeback this week, I expect even more complaints from this crowd about Romney's personal failings, as well as the inadequacies of his campaign staff.
But the second explanation strikes me as more compelling. The Republican primaries, and then the Republican convention, have shown America a party far removed from the "compassionate conservatism" the GOP tried to sell in 2000. Instead, we have a party that's been taken over by Tea Partiers, nativists, social Darwinists, homophobes, right-wing evangelicals, and a few rich people whose only interest is to become even wealthier.
These regressives were there in 2000, to be sure. They lurked in the GOP in the 1990s, when Newt Gingrich took over the House. They were there in the 1980s, too, although Ronald Reagan's sunny disposition gave them cover. In truth, they've been part of the GOP for more than half a century — but never before have they held so much sway in the party, never before have they called the shots.
The second view about Romney's decline also explains the "negative coat-tail" effect — why so many Republicans around the country in Senate and House races are falling behind. Scott Brown, for example, is well-liked in Massachusetts. But his polls have been dropping in recent weeks because he's had to carry the burden of the public's increasing dislike of the Republican Party. The same is true with regard to Republican senate races in Florida, Virginia, and every other battleground state.
Romney's failing isn't that he's a bad candidate. To the contrary, he's giving this GOP exactly what it wants in a candidate. And that's exactly the problem for Romney — as it is for every other Republican candidate — because what the GOP wants is not at all what the rest of America wants.