Mitt’s base blues
The trajectory of the Republican race was not altered in the slightest by the results this weekend of the Louisiana caucuses. Mitt Romney lost yet another Dixie state, but he picked up a few delegates thanks to the proportional allocation rules, and his 2-1 national delegate edge over Rick Santorum remains virtually inviolate.But Romney’s abiding weakness in the GOP’s strongest region is nonetheless a harbinger of trouble in November. There’s no way, of course, that President Obama could ever beat Romney in Dixie bailiwicks like Louisiana or Mississippi or Alabama; those states spurned Romney in the Republican intramurals, but they’ll obviously take him over Obama at general election time. That’s not the issue. The conservative base is so huge and dominant in those states that any Republican would finish on top.No, the real issue is what happens in the more diverse southern states – namely, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida. They’ll be crucial swing states in this election, precisely because of their demographic diversity. To win them, Romney will need to trump the populous Democratic-leaning counties in Northern Virginia, the burgeoning minority communities and upscale liberal academic enclaves in North Carolina, and the non-Cuban Hispanics and Dade County Democrats down in Florida. But Romney can’t trump those Obama voters, in those southern swing states, unless he can somehow maximize turnout from the conservative base. And there’s still no indication that the base would ride to the rescue with any degree of enthusiasm, in the numbers that he would require. (The same is true in another swing state – Iowa, where a Republican victory hinges on the enthusiasm of the base.)What the weekend Louisiana results demonstrated, yet again, is that Mitt lacks the requisite moxie with the base. He was waxed by Santorum, in the overall vote tally, by 22 percentage points. But the exit polls tell the real story. Romney lost the self-identified “very conservative” voters by 30 percentage points, and he lost white evangelicals by 35 points. And among all voters in this contest (which was open only to Republican registrants), a whopping 42 percent said they wouldn’t be happy if Romney wins the nomination.That kind of desultory mood, within the base, could spell the difference this autumn between victory and defeat. In tight swing states like North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia (in the latest Quinnipiac poll, Obama leads Romney by eight points in Virginia), Romney would lose if only a relatively small share of those evangelicals and “very conservatives” forgo the grassroots door-knocking/envelope-stuffing rituals (a good campaign needs a potent ground game), and opt on election day to simply stay home.Nobody knows how the health care reform law will play out as a political issue this fall – that may depend on what the Supreme Court does, and which party wins the spin war – but this much is certain: If Romney is indeed the nominee (and it’s hard to see otherwise), all Obama needs to do to depress conservative base turnout is remind viewers, during the autumn debates, that Romneycare in 2006 (signed into law by Romney, in the presence of Ted Kennedy) served as the template for Obamacare in 2010. Indeed, Obama lieutenant David Plouffe reminded viewers yesterday, on Meet The Press, that Romney was “the godfather of our health care plan.” And Plouffe didn’t even bother to quote Romney’s ’06 remarks about how his insurance-purchase mandate would be “a good model” for other states.Romneycare is one big reason why his conservative base deficit will likely surface again in upcoming primaries, notably in Arkansas, Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana, and Texas. It’s hard to see how he can Etch a Sketch his way out of that predicament.——-Is Newt Gingrich still in the race? Not in any measurable sense, having been rejected so soundly in Louisiana (16 percent of the vote) that he didn’t pick up a single delegate. He’s on a fast track to replay his ignominious downfall of November 1998, when his House Republican colleagues virtually drove him from the Speaker’s chair and out of Congress altogether. Nevertheless, his dulcet tones echoed across America the other day, when he weighed in on the Trayvon Martin Walking-While-Black case, and predictably debased the civic dialogue.Martin, as you know by now, was the black Florida teen armed with a bag Skittles who was gunned down by a gated-community rent-a-cop. When Obama was asked about the incident late last week, he said: “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” Newt, in response, naturally declared that Obama’s remark was “disgraceful.” How come? Because “it’s not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background….Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling.”To use Newt’s favorite word, there’s a fundamental reason why the GOP is the white people’s party (Louisiana’s GOP voters were 95 percent white). It’s partly because Republican politicians so often refuse to squarely face, or even acknowledge, the fundamental issues of race. Newt’s Friday reaction to Obama was Exhibit A.Newt would have been right at home in 1955, commenting on the death of Emmett Till, a black Chicago teenager whose visit to Mississippi ended in the Tallahatchie River, where he sank to the bottom in chains after being beaten and shot to death by a pair of white racists. The 1955 Newt would have said: It’s not a question of who that boy looked like, and turning it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong and appalling.Whether Newt stays in the Republican contest is actually beside the point. We’re doomed to hear him forevermore, because he’ll always find a forum.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1
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