The Corner

What’s the Rationale Now?

With Newt’s big win tonight, the glaring weakness of Mitt Romney now stands revealed for all to see. Hopefully including Mitt. Because if this wasn’t a wake-up call for Team Romney, he’s a totally hopeless candidate.

All along, I’ve thought he was a pretty hopeless candidate, with too many weaknesses and very few political strengths. Stripped of his Iowa “win,” his record as a candidate is basically 2–4, with wins as Massachusetts governor and, this cycle, in the New Hampshire primary (as a semi-favorite son), but losses to Ted Kennedy, McCain, Rick Santorum, and now Mr. Newt. 

This loss is a bad one. Not only did he blow a sizable (and, as it turns out, illusory) lead, he finds himself right back where he started this campaign, stuck at around a quarter of the vote. If that’s “electable,” the GOP is in serious trouble.

The smart set will be quick to tell you that Romney still has plenty of money and organization. So did Tim Pawlenty in Iowa and Michele Bachmann beat him. Those things may be beloved of the Republican “strategists” — who are, of course, merely tacticians obsessed with Operation Market Garden but who can’t find Berlin on a map — but in a primary campaign that is primarily being waged via the televised debates, they count for much less than they used to.

What counts is passion. The 2010 midterms proved that, but the GOP bonzes seemed embarrassed by the Tea Party’s success. They pushed the “electable” and “inevitable” memes as hard as they could in the service of a milquetoast candidate, and the mainstream media, openly rooting for the other side, was only too happy to help them out. As I’ve been saying, Romney’s been the candidate the Democrats have wanted to face all along, in part because of his glass ceiling. Which is turning out to be a glass jaw.

So Romney has simply got to come up with a more cogent rationale for his candidacy than he has up to now if he has any hope of becoming president. He can’t run for CEO any more.

That Bennett propaganda film may not have been entirely accurate but — and this is the point – it obviously worked. It also clearly disarmed Romney and left him with his guard down when the knockout punch — his taxes — came along. It was obvious all along that his reluctance to release his taxes was based on the fact that he pays capital gains on his income, not “income taxes.” That’s clearly defensible and entirely legal — but the electorate is in no mood for a lecture on the distinction, and it’s terrible in the current political environment.

In an ideal world, Romney would be a strong candidate. But it’s not an ideal world. In fact, it’s a downright mean, nasty, grubby world of imperfect men struggling to confront serious historical and philosophical forces while battling each other for power and prestige. Segments on the right have not entirely digested the notion that Obama and his party are running on a platform of contempt for America and “fundamental change” for the future; it’s like they think the Dems don’t really mean it. And that taking the high road by confining the campaign to “jobs” will appeal to the “real” America somewhere out there in the heartland. And that playing rough is beneath us.

Newt played rough in South Carolina and won big. That ought to tell the GOP something. Whether it will is another story. If this loss tonight makes Romney a stronger, better, more articulate candidate, terrific. But he has to learn from this stunning defeat: The base is itching for a fight with everything the Obama Democrats stand for and they don’t much care who gives it to them, just as long as somebody does. Tonight, that’s Newt.

As the late Al Davis used to say, “Just win, baby.” And, as the Democrats say, “by any means necessary.” It’s high time they got a taste of their own medicine — and understand there’s a lot more where that came from.

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