Mitt’s Campaign: Heading to the Cadillac Ranch?

Charlie Cook became the latest prognosticator to acknowledge what I have been telling you for some time: that Mitt Romney is an exceedingly weak Republican frontrunner.  Noting Romney’s declining support among independents, Cook concludes his assessment of the Republican race this way:  “My assumption was that Romney would be the nominee and would make a good run. Now, I have begun to doubt both propositions. His odds of winning the nomination are growing longer. And even if he does, he has twisted and turned himself into a human pretzel. I’m not sure how electable he is. The alternatives, however, seem even less so.”

Events these past few days drive home Cook’s point. During Wednesday’s Arizona debate, we saw all the reasons why Romney must be considered the Republican frontrunner.   Judging by the applause, the audience seemed dominated by pro-Romney supporters – a likely sign of Romney’s superior organization as well as a strong Mormon turnout.  During the debate Romney proceeded to use his superior opposition research to focus attention on Santorum’s  Senate voting record – a strategy that kept the Rickster on the defensive most of the night as he tried to defend some of his votes that he acknowledged were either mistakes or against his principles.  The more time Santorum delved into the Senate weeds by, for example,  debating the merits of earmarks and Title X, the less he was able to attack Romney.  In the end, this was not a good performance for Rick, something borne out by the first two post-debate polls in Michigan which both show Romney edging ahead of Santorum by margins of 3% and 6%.

But while Romney was effective on Wednesday in driving down Santorum’s poll numbers, much as he did with Gingrich during the pre-Florida debates – it’s not clear to me that the debate strengthened Romney’s own case to be the nominee.  Although he effectively put Rick on the defensive, he also came across again as the rich boy used to getting his way, as when defending his right not to answer CNN moderator John King’s final question regarding misconceptions about each candidate.  It was the same blustering response we’ve seen from Romney in previous debates and it reinforce the impression that he’s not very likeable.

Today, in what was billed as a major economic speech at Ford Field in Michigan, Romney tried to build on any momentum he may have gained coming out of the CNN debate.  Leading up to the speech, however, critics seemed more concerned with the Romney camp’s tactics for downplaying the fact that he was going to speak to an audience of about 1,000 in a stadium that seats about 65,000 people. (The speech, hosted by the Detroit Economic Club, was moved to Ford Field after sponsors concluded that the sold out event was too large for the hotel conference room it had been slated for.)  With the Michigan primary just four days away, Romney used the speech to flesh out his economic plan for cutting government spending and taxes, and for protecting entitlement programs.  Most notably, he proposed an overhaul of the U.S. tax system to create a “flatter, fairer, simpler tax system,” cutting all tax rates by 20% and limiting deductions for the wealthy.

Once again, however, the often politically tone deaf Romney likely stepped on his own lead. This time it came during an effort to show his personal support for the automotive industry. Near the end of the speech, after noting that he has owned several Detroit-built automobiles, including a Mustang [a Ford product] and a Chevy, Mitt – always seeking ways to demonstrate the common touch – let this slip out: “Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually” before he completed the Big Three automotive trifecta by noting he also once owned a Dodge pickup.

Two Cadillacs?  Really? One isn’t enough?  I don’t want to overstate the significance of this throwaway comment.  Indeed, it’s not clear to me how much airplay, if any, it will get.  But I do think it is but the latest in a series of remarks by Mitt that collectively reinforce the point that he lacks that Reagan-like ability to empathize with Joe and Jane Sixpack.  And that failure shows in his campaign support; exit polls from the nominating contests consistently show that his support falls in linear fashion as one moves down the income ladder.

Let’s be clear. Mitt may yet pull out a victory in Michigan, to go along with a win that same day in Arizona.  But if he barely squeaks by Santorum in Mitt’s “home” state, this is not going to provide much boost, if any, heading into Super Tuesday on March 6.  And it may lead others to the same conclusion Cook voiced yesterday: that Mitt can’t close the deal with many Republican voters.

Mitt may own two Cadillacs, but it won’t do him much good if his campaign ends up at the Cadillac Ranch.

7:55 p.m. UPDATE:  Well, it didn’t take long.  The Hillin its coverage of the Romney speech, reacts to the Cadillac comment this way:  “But his claim might hurt him by reinforcing the image, being pushed by Democrats, of Romney as elitist and out of touch with average Americans. ”  You think?  Politico, meanwhile,  headlines its coverage of the Romney speech as follows:  “Mitt Romney’s Cadillac Flub One of Many”.  And the wags were out in force in the Twitterverse regarding Mitt’s automobiles.

He can’t help himself.

 

6 comments

  1. Professor,
    In all the speeches delivered during the Republican Primary campaigning, have you heard any candidate say anything that leads you to believe that they have not taken their oath to the Tea Party instead of to our Constitution**. From day one of campaigning, all have fiercely endorsed what I call “extreme” conservative positions in connection with all social or financial issues. Gingrich closed down the government during the Clinton administration; Boehner almost succeeded during the current administration. Where has the traditional Republican party gone? It has disappeared, yes? The party’s name is a misnomer. Shouldn’t they all be running as “Tea Party” candidates? What a calamity for America! What do you think? I’d love to know.

    JD

    ** taken from op-ed article by Prof Robert Watson, Lynn University, Boca Raton FL in the 1/15/12 issue of the Sun-sentinel newspaper.

  2. Jim,

    There is no doubt that both the Republican and Democratic parties have shed their more moderates members in recent years, with the center of gravity of the Democratic Party moving Left, and the Republican to the Right. Arguably, the Republicans have shifted farther Right than the Democrats have to the Left, but the point remains: we are in a period of intensely polarized political parties. It follows, then, if you are going to win that party’s nomination, you will cater to those active partisans who show up and vote in caucuses and primaries. In most of the Republican races so far, the Tea Party has composed anywhere from 30% to 60% of the Republican vote. So any candidate who wants to win the nomination has to cater at least in part to their interests. The irony here is that the Tea Party activists believe they are the ones who are demanding a return to the Constitution. Remember, the impetus for the Tea Party comes from a populist rebellion against the government bailouts of the banking, insurance and automotive industries, as well as opposition to what they see as wasteful government spending and high budget deficits. Despite the prominence of social issues in recent media coverage, most surveys suggest these are of secondary interest to the Tea Party. They are all about the economy, jobs and government spending.

    You are correct that this is not the Republican Party of Eisenhower, Rockefeller or other moderate Republicans. But many Tea Party activists believe they are upholding the legacy of Reagan, the patron saint of the modern conservative movement. It’s not my job to pass judgment on the virtues (or vices!) of the Tea Party ideology and what it means for America more generally. But I can understand why all the Republican candidates believe it is necessary to pay attention to the Tea Party movement. For better or for worse, the Tea Party represents an important ideological strand in the current Republican Party and no Republican candidate hoping to secure the Party’s nomination can afford to take them for granted.

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