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What should Mitt Romney do now? He should peer deep into the abyss. He should look straight into the heart of darkness where lies a Republican defeat in a year the Republican presidential candidate almost couldn’t lose. He should imagine what it will mean for the country, for a great political philosophy, conservatism, for his party and, last, for himself. He must look down unblinkingly.
And then he needs to snap out of it, and move.
He has got seven weeks. He’s just had two big flubs. On the Mideast he seemed like a political opportunist, not big and wise but small and tinny. It mattered because the crisis was one of those moments when people look at you and imagine you as president.
Then his comments released last night and made months ago at the private fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla. Mr. Romney has relearned what four years ago Sen. Barack Obama learned: There’s no such thing as private when you’re a candidate with a mic. There’s someone who doesn’t like you in that audience. There’s someone with a cellphone. Mr. Obama’s clinger comments became famous in 2008 because when people heard what he’d said, they thought, “That’s the real him, that’s him when he’s talking to his friends.”
And so a quick denunciation of what Mr. Romney said, followed by some ideas.
The central problem revealed by the tape is Romney’s theory of the 2012 election. It is that a high percentage of the electorate receives government checks and therefore won’t vote for him, another high percentage is supplying the tax revenues and will vote for him, and almost half the people don’t pay taxes and presumably won’t vote for him.
My goodness, that’s a lot of people who won’t vote for you. You wonder how he gets up in the morning.
This is not how big leaders talk, it’s how shallow campaign operatives talk: They slice and dice the electorate like that, they see everything as determined by this interest or that. They’re usually young enough and dumb enough that nobody holds it against them, but they don’t know anything. They don’t know much about America.
We are a big, complicated nation. And we are human beings. We are people. We have souls. We are complex. We are not data points. Many things go into our decisions and our political affiliations.
You have to be sophisticated to know that. And if you’re operating at the top of national politics, you’re supposed to be sophisticated.
I wrote recently of an imagined rural Ohio woman sitting on her porch, watching the campaign go by. She’s 60, she identifies as conservative, she likes guns, she thinks the culture has gone crazy. She doesn’t like Obama. Romney looks OK. She’s worried about the national debt and what it will mean to her children. But she’s having a hard time, things are tight for her right now, she’s on partial disability, and her husband is a vet and he gets help, and her mother receives Social Security.
She’s worked hard and paid into the system for years. Her husband fought for his country.
And she’s watching this whole election and thinking.You can win her vote if you give her faith in your fairness and wisdom. But not if you label her and dismiss her.
As for those workers who don’t pay any income taxes, they pay payroll taxes—Social Security and Medicare. They want to rise in the world and make more money. They’d like to file a 1040 because that will mean they got a raise or a better job.
They too are potential Romney voters, because they’re suffering under the no-growth economy.
So: Romney’s theory of the case is all wrong. His understanding of the political topography is wrong.
And his tone is fatalistic. I can’t win these guys who will only vote their economic interests, but I can win these guys who will vote their economic interests, plus some guys in the middle, whoever they are.
That’s too small and pinched and narrow. That’s not how Republicans emerge victorious—”I can’t win these guys.” You have to have more respect than that, and more affection, you don’t write anyone off, you invite everyone in. Reagan in 1984 used to put out his hand: “Come too, come walk with me.” Come join, come help, whatever is happening in your life.
You know what Romney sounded like? Like a kid new to politics who thinks he got the inside lowdown on how it works from some operative. But those old operatives, they never know how it works. They knew how it worked for one cycle back in the day.
They’re jockeys who rode Seabiscuit and thought they won a race.
The big issue—how we view government, what we want from it, what we need, what it rightly asks of us, what it wrongly demands of us—is a good…
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