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Mitt Romney: The Salesman Trapped in the GOP Madhouse

Saturday, 14 April 2012 00:00 By Steve King, Truthout | News Analysis
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Mitt Romney is not a flip-flopper. He's a salesman. Romney has been running for president since 2007. He has been running as a pragmatic conservative in a party no longer interested in pragmatism or even conservatism. He is now running as a moderate in an extremist party. The party of his father is no longer a party at all; it's an insane asylum.

In 2008, Romney spent millions of his own dollars and ran as a conservative to John McCain's moderate. This image ran in stark and mind-twisting contrast to the former governor from Massachusetts. In his failed Senate run against Teddy Kennedy and his successful gubernatorial run, he ran as only a Republican can in Massachusetts; as a liberal. He described himself as a progressive Republican. He said he didn't support Reagan/Bush, he voted for Tsongas. He backed a woman's right to choose and some gay rights. He did what he had to do to get elected as a Mormon Republican in the bluest of states.

It was because of this salesman approach that the right-wing culture warrior who called himself Mitt Romney didn't make it past February in the Republican nominating contest. Indeed, he was loathed even by his opponents. At the 2008 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Romney "suspended" his bid for that year's nomination, effectively handing the nomination over to the hapless McCain. Since that election and the crumbling of the economy, Romney's perceived cachet as the next-in-line on the Republican bench and his business experience as a corporate raider have left him well positioned to be the nominee. Since 2008, Romney has done everything a second-place Republican should. He has refined his message, made strategic endorsements during the midterm elections and spread plenty of money around through his political action committee (PAC). He supported the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bailout of Wall Street while criticizing President Obama's rescue of Detroit. He has attacked the artificial bogeyman of government overspending while saying he would increase military spending. He lined up establishment endorsement after establishment endorsement. He did everything right. And he did it all without a major scandal.

The Romney scandal is not some nefarious, private dalliance or corrupt dealing. His scandal is himself. His critics on the right and on the left often point out that his only consistency is inconsistency. This is inaccurate. He has simply meant to please and engage any audience he happens to find himself in front of at any given time. He strives to do what he did for Bain Capital: increase his stature by increasing the worth of his shareholders, whoever they happen to be. Romney expects the same cold calculation and transactional politics to be reciprocated by his would-be supporters. The problem does not arise from the fact that his inconsistencies lend themselves more to dishonesty. They do, but political parties often forgive this in exchange for electability and the furtherance of an agenda. The problem arises from the fact that the people whose favor he now pursues might just be out of their minds.

Fearmongering in Fantasyland

In the past few years, the party that Mitt Romney hopes to preside over has moved so far to the right that Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater would have trouble securing the nomination. The party has slowly but surely wandered into a fantasyland where the nation's first liberal, intellectual African-American president has morphed into a tyrannical, possible antichrist, foreign-born, Sharia-law-abiding Muslim socialist prosecuting a war on religion while at the same time being controlled by a capitalist Jewish cabal of One World Government-pushing elites. This is an alternate reality they have constructed for themselves, one in which President Obama is orchestrating a government takeover of everything imaginable, yet at the same time, is too amateur to control or head the government. Instead of Obama's ascendance merely heralding the changing face of American progressivism, multiculturalism and a less monochromatic face at the top of US government, it seems that American conservatives' already loose grip on reality was entirely detached with his very election. Unless they can stop him and restore their version of America, the United States faces a nightmarish hellscape of death panels  and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) concentration camps.

Since being elected back into a controlling majority in the House of Representatives in 2010, the party now loosely controlled by Speaker John Boehner has set out not to pass bills aimed at kickstarting job growth and the lagging economy, the most important issue of our time. They have, instead, classified pizza as a vegetable, attempted to defund Planned Parenthood and NPR, tried to redefine forceful rape, voted that global warming simply doesn't exist and affirmed that "In God We Trust" is the nation's motto. They also nearly plunged the world into another catastrophic economic maelstrom by refusing to raise the debt ceiling until the last possible moment, a partisan charade that accomplished nothing except for the first downgrading of the nation's credit rating. The downward drift of the party was described by Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pennsylvania) in his farewell address as, "a form of sophisticated cannibalism."

And that same rhetorical degradation was on brilliant and perfect display when Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Texas) warned the world, on the House floor no less, of the eminent threat of "terror babies" - children brought into the country and raised as sleeper agents for al-Qaeda, ready to sabotage and attack the United States from within. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Illinois) wondered aloud on the floor how many alligators it would take to secure the border. Minnesota Congresswoman and Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann attempted to repeal lightbulb-efficiency regulation. Rep. Peter King (R-New York) held hearings on the national security risks posed by religious extremists, but focused exclusively on Muslims, at the same time ignoring the violent acts committed by his own party  and the simultaneous prosecution of the Hutaree militia.

Not to Be Outdone by Their National Counterparts...

Though the depth of the House Republicans' buffoonery seems to have no end, it has been surpassed by the almost mass hysteria displayed by their counterparts in the states. Florida's Pinellas County commissioners voted in October 2011 to ban fluoride from the public drinking water, calling it "a social sort of program." Later that year, Florida Republican Rep. Ritch Workman filed a bill to repeal the state's ban of "dwarf-tossing" in what he said was a effort to create jobs. In 2011, Florida tea party activists also fought restrictions aimed at protecting the local manatee population, claiming it was a UN plot. These efforts were dwarfed by Florida's Gov. Rick Scott, with his own fraudulent past, who pushed to require welfare recipients to pay for their own drug tests. He also felt moved to ban bestiality and baggy jeans.

Arizona and Ohio both passed bans on the cloning of animal-human hybrids. In Ohio, a fetus was scheduled to "testify" in support of a heartbeat bill that would have banned abortion as early as 18 days from conception. In the spring of 2011, birther bills sprang up in a half dozen states requiring presidential candidates to submit their long-form birth certificates in order to get on the ballot, but only Arizona was reported to have possibly required a "circumcision certificate." South Dakota moved to legalize the killing of abortion providers by expanding the definition of "justifiable homicide" to prevent the perceived harm to the unborn.

In the Iowa legislature, a bill was proposed that would allow residents to carry weapons in public without permission from a sheriff and without training or background checks. The bill was labeled by the state's Republican pro tem as "the crazy, give-a-handgun-to-a-schizophrenic bill." Utah named their official state gun - the Browning model M1911 automatic pistol - months after the shooting of former Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. In Louisiana, Sheriff Larry Deen of Bossier Parish began equipping and training civilians with machine guns, shotguns and hand-to-hand combat in a militia-esque program called "Operation Exodus" aimed at protecting the local citizenry in the event of a terrorist attack. Sheriff Deen said he had been considering the plan since the September 11 attacks - he just didn't put it into effect until the election of Barack Obama. Also in Louisiana, governor and onetime exorcist Bobby Jindal signed into a law a bill allowing citizens to carry guns into churches. New Hampshire Republicans overturned a ban that prohibited guns from being brought into the State House. They later allowed House members to bring guns into the actual House chambers.

The Maine Republican Party platform was taken over and warped by local tea party activists into creating an amazing and publicly deranged document that opposed the Fairness Doctrine, the "Read the Bill" Act - as if legislators were not reading their own bills - and sought to investigate and eliminate Acorn-like groups. The document put into writing other gems, such as, "reject any effort to give foreign citizens the right to vote in the US in any situation or capacity," and "repeal and prohibit any participation in efforts to create a one world government." 

The state where the Republican tea party has been most able to live out its conservative utopia has been Kansas. Since his election in 2010, Gov. Sam Brownback, a once and future Republican presidential candidate, has pushed such strict anti-abortion measures that the state has all but stopped the practice. He cut funding to social services, in the process doubling the state's percentage of residents in poverty and leading to the state's new nickname, "Brownbackistan." 

But Oklahoma has been far and away the state that best exemplifies the fracturing nature of the Republican Party's grip on reality. Oklahoma banned the (imagined) imminent threat of Sharia law through a referendum. The motion won by 70 percent. The law was later struck down in federal court. The Oklahoma legislature attempted to pass a birther bill, leading one aide to a Democratic floor leader to conclude, "This is Oklahoma. We embarrass ourselves all the time." Earlier this year, Oklahoma state legislators attempted to ban the sale of any food which contained aborted human fetuses. The bill was introduced as a protest of stem cell research.

Then, not to be outdone, Virginia lawmakers attempted to pass a law requiring any woman pursuing an abortion to receive the aggressively invasive, and medically unnecessary, transvaginal probe. Also, Wyoming almost passed a "Doomsday Bill" that would have designated an office of planning for continuity of government operations - just in case the world came to an end. The bill was defeated, but not before the state inquired about obtaining an aircraft carrier.

These were not the rantings of the occasional insane candidate standing for public office while carrying around a baseball bat. It's not as though they were proclaiming that urban bike paths are UN plots, or dressing as Nazis on weekends, or even warning of mice with fully functioning human brains; these were the deliberate acts by people in power who saw their moves as quite normal and rational.

Election Fever Turns Up the Dial on Delusion

It's hard to pick a nominee for your political party when you're planning for the end of the world, just as it's especially hard to make coherent long-term decisions when you're slipping into madness and think the president may be the Antichrist. This mental death spiral has been no more evident than in the 2012 Republican presidential nominating contest. This explains why Donald Trump jumped ahead of Romney in the polls in the spring of 2011. Trump's farcical, profoundly ignorant and not-so-subtly racist quest for President Obama's character assassination via birth certificate ended like many of his business ventures: in abject failure and embarrassment. Yet - not unlike the Republican Party - he was too deep into his delusion and ego to admit it. At the height of the political circus that Trump had caused by publicly shrieking to anyone who would listen about Obama's alleged lack of a birth certificate, Trump achieved something that is rarely done. He built a platform, as fragile as it was, that was strong enough to topple Romney and show that the GOP base was seeking something more visceral and nasty in a candidate. It also forced the president to send his personal lawyer to Hawaii to request the release of his long-form birth certificate to settle the matter. Trump's numbers collapsed, and he was ridiculed in person by the president at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner. The next day, the president oversaw a mission that resulted in Osama bin Laden being fatally shot in the face and buried at sea, so ending the speculation that he was a secret Muslim sleeper agent "terror baby" possibly sent to destroy America.

But something had been unearthed and awakened in the Republican electorate that has not since gone away. Like a virus, it has moved from candidate to candidate, never settling on Romney. He was not a strong enough host. His approval ratings with the base remained stagnant in the mid-20s. The base support instead moved to Bachmann. Like an electrical charge burning its way through a fuse, it stayed with Bachmann until Rick Perry entered the race, leaving her candidacy permanently crippled and never to recover. She dropped out after placing sixth in the Iowa caucuses.

Rick Perry was perhaps the perfect host for the insanity virus in that he had been a long-serving conservative Southern governor who advocated secession shortly after Obama's election. He harnessed the base and breezed past Romney in the polls. Everything was going fine until he started to mangle the English language at debates, culminating in an epic brain freeze when he could not name three government programs that he would cut

The base's support then jumped again, perhaps romanced by the hilarious and captivating oratory of one Herman Cain, a former pizza mogul with no experience in elected office. Cain was crushed under the weight of media scrutiny regarding his marital infidelities and his inability to properly defend his vague and contradictory '9-9-9' plan. He dropped out in December quoting, "Pokémon: The Movie 2000."

The next jump landed at the feet of bombastic narcissist and former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. As Gingrich started to enjoy the new wave of support, Romney's Super PAC, Restore Our Future, carpet-bombed Iowa with negative ads. This has been Romney's signature move: overwhelm and devastate his opponents with negative ads aimed not at bolstering his support, but at making the other candidate seem so unelectable that he is the obvious choice. Gingrich finished in Iowa a humiliating fourth. Romney achieved his goal of splitting the wingnut vote and almost winning Iowa, but, in so doing, he also cleared the road for the greatest threat to his campaign, the culture warrior Santorum. Romney lost to Santorum in Iowa by 20 votes.

With favor now focused on Santorum, Gingrich was left nearly electorally lifeless in Iowa, but this also triggered in him the same anger and fighting spirit that he had not shown since the 90s, and he has since transformed himself into a moonbase-advocating, hubris-fueled kamikaze pilot aimed directly at Romney. Romney won New Hampshire easily, but Gingrich pulled out a win in South Carolina, due, in large part, to his ruthless and combative debate performances and blatant race-baiting. Romney stopped his downward spiral by once again fire-bombing Gingrich's hate machine in Florida. Santorum kept it up and won a clean sweep in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota, further cementing his challenge to Romney and his dominance over Gingrich - setting the stage for Michigan and the Super Tuesday contests.

Can Romney Romance an Unloving Base?

Michigan now gives us a blueprint for the rest of the 2012 election. Romney will win by the numbers, but he will not win the people's hearts. It will be a split decision where he will win not with the affection of the people, but thanks to the two (or more)  negative ad he runs for every one ad run on his opponent . Before his win, Romney was forced to deploy Donald Trump and Kid Rock to campaign on his behalf. During his Michigan victory speech, Romney proclaimed, "We didn't win by a lot, but we won by enough, and that's what counts." His subsequent victories on Super Tuesday, while giving him the delegate lead he needs to reach the nomination, underscored his rocky relationship with the base. Shortly thereafter, Gingrich faded back into political irrelevance. Ron Paul never developed the needed traction to win a single contest. Only Santorum continued on his zombie-like death march even after Romney was the clear nominee. After weeks of debate on the subject of birth control, of all things, a Planned Parenthood was firebombed in Wisconsin a day before that state's primary contest. Romney then won Wisconsin and Maryland. Finally with Romney's "Death Star" hovering over Pennsylvania, with an avalanche of negative ads ready to rain down upon him, thereby ensuring a humiliating, career-ending defeat in his home state, Rick Santorum bowed out of the race, handing the nomination over to Romney. On the same day, in Tennessee, home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, a bill was passed into law protecting teachers who allowed Creationism to be included in discussions on evolution.

Since the beginning, Romney has been viewed by his own side as the political equivalent of the pop star Lana Del Rey - a child of privilege with little talent but oodles of opportunity bought and paid for by a more accomplished father. Romney now finds himself peddling a bitter pill in an insane asylum to people he used to know. But those people, or Romney, may be so far gone that they can't recognize each other anymore.

He said he didn't support Ohio Gov. John Kasich's union- busting bill, then reversed himself to curry favor in the state. He said he didn't support Senators Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) and Marco Rubio's (R-Florida) radical contraception ban, then hours later said "of course" he supported it. He started his campaign claiming that he thought climate change was caused by humans; several months later, he said he had doubts. He's not only wrong on the issues here, he's wrong on the politics, as SB2 was crushingly defeated in Ohio, the Blunt bill died in the Senate (not before alienating female voters) - and he campaigned through what will be recorded as one of the warmest winters on record.

Romney and the base have been locked in an awkward and dangerous dance on the edge of a cliff. He has twisted himself into rhetorical knots, done and said everything he needs to do and say in order to try to get the right-wing affection to turn his way - and every time, he has been coldly rebuffed. This is all before he will have to change again, leading up to the general election, to woo back the moderates who have left him droves. He has sacrificed his integrity and electability in order to romance a people who do not love him back, trudging toward the general election, always looking over his shoulder to see if they're following or perhaps looking back at him as they walk away. He pushes himself forward with a forced smile and the weary eyes of a salesman who knows he's not quite able to close the deal.

But he has the money, ego and entitlement machine with the power to clench the nomination, if not the base's heart. Their hatred for Obama may be enough to get them to vote for Romney, but it won't be enough to sustain him, and they will eventually end up hating each other. He can never convince the crazies he's one of them, because deep down (or not so deep down), he's not. He is not a psychopath, though many corporate CEOs with his background are.

He's an empty void. Romney comes off as a freak who knows he's a freak but is desperately and unconvincingly trying to hide it. His problem is, it's voters with some of the strangest beliefs whose support he now needs to in order to feed the power-suction machine that doubles as his heart. His act as a conservative is artificial - as were his many acts of liberalism.

Based on his many strange outbursts when he was challenged on the trail, it can be inferred that Romney is a man used to unchallenged power. He is a church leader and corporate establishment chieftain accountable only to his heavenly father and the memory of an earthly one who was almost president. He's a  1 percent Predator Drone and a  corporate establishment zombie and a social cripple. If he understands people, he just doesn't see any value in them. Their views, values, agendas and positions hold no allure or interest to him, only insofar as they serve the mechanical humming inside of him that humans call ambition. If he is able to unseat President Obama, his problems with the base will continue to hobble his presidency and political legacy. If the Supreme Court merely strikes down the individual mandate and doesn't gut all of the Affordable Care Act, Romney would have to repeal President Obama's greatest domestic accomplishment, a law modeled on his own greatest accomplishment as Massachusetts governor. Like his smearing of Gingrich, his greatest political victory in the Republican base's eyes would just so happen to destroy a lot of people's lives and prospects. His only vindication with the people holding down the camp of delusion would lie in handing the people of this country back over to the savage whims of the  health insurance companies.

But it still wouldn't be enough. He could privatize Social Security and drastically cut Medicare into virtual nonexistence, but it wouldn't satisfy their hunger. And he would still have to raise the debt ceiling. All of his right-wing pandering would eventually lead to a progressive backlash that the tacit support of the base would be too weak to overcome, leading to a one-term, failed Romney presidency.

Romney's failure to rouse the love and devotion of the GOP base is, has been and will be his eventual undoing: a tragic political love story where the salesman's quest for the insane's approval came at the expense of his very political objective and what remained of his soul.

This article is a Truthout original.

Steve King

Steve King lives in Baltimore. He can be contacted on twitter @steveking_


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