Pull It Together

02.29.12

Romney Wins Michigan and Arizona, but Political Tourette’s Is Costing Him

Mitt Romney won Arizona, but his Michigan victory was humiliatingly close, and his gaffes have reached a pathological level, says Paul Begala. Plus, Howard Kurtz, Patricia Murphy, and more Daily Beast contributors weigh in on the results.

Mitt Romney barely winning a primary in his home state is like Charlie Sheen barely winning a primary in a Hooters. Sure, it’s a win, but the fact that it was close is more than embarrassing—it’s mortifying.

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Supporters at an Arizona primary-night rally in Phoenix hold signs for Romney (Matt York / AP Photo)

Romney won Arizona and he won Michigan. He won the delegates, but he certainly has not won the hearts of his party’s conservative base. According to CNN’s exit poll, he lost those who describe themselves as “very conservative” by 14 percent. He lost pro-lifers by 9 percent. He lost white evangelicals by 16 percent. And the only income group he won a majority of was those who earn more than $200,000 a year.

Bad as that is, the news from the moderate middle is worse. Romney’s transparent—and largely unsuccessful—pandering to the kook right has deeply damaged him among the swing voters who will ultimately pick our next president. The latest Washington Post–ABC News poll shows Romney with a dangerously low favorable rating of just 29 percent. (President Obama’s is 49 percent.) The Pew poll reports that by a margin of 61–29, voters say Romney does not understand the needs of people like you. And in the latest CNN poll, 65 percent of voters say Romney’s policies favor the rich.

Romney’s constant Marie Antoinette gaffes are pathological. He said he didn’t follow NASCAR but has some friends who own teams. He bragged about his wife’s two Cadillacs, mocked people wearing inexpensive plastic ponchos in the rain, and said he didn’t care much about the very poor because, he added, they have a safety net—as if he knew anything about being poor. He publicly offered a bet for $10,000, said $374,000 in speaking fees is not a lot of money, and that “corporations are people too.” He described himself as unemployed, claimed he has been worried about getting a pink slip, and said, “I like being able to fire people who provide services.”

That’s not a string of gaffes, that’s political Tourette’s.

Yes, Romney won, but look who he beat. Ron Paul is self-limiting, Newt Gingrich is self-aggrandizing, and Rick Santorum is self-righteous.

Rick Santorum snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. He insulted the memory of JFK and accused President Obama of following a “false theology.” He attacked public schools and said those who want to send their children to college are snobs. And of course, he attacked contraception. When you attack sex, college, and JFK, you’re really limiting your pool of potential voters.

Yes, Romney won, but look who he beat. Ron Paul is self-limiting, Newt Gingrich is self-aggrandizing, and Rick Santorum is self-righteous.

Thinking he might lose, Romney spent part of Election Day whining about Santorum’s attempts to get Democratic votes, which his campaign called “dirty tactics” and “politics at its worst.” Of course, Romney himself crossed over and voted for Democrat Paul Tsongas in the 1992 Democratic presidential primary in Massachusetts.

It may well be that the biggest winner is Barack Obama. Sure, his team would likely have preferred a Santorum victory. But the Dow Jones industrial average topped 13,000, and Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe announced her retirement—turning a GOP lock into a potential Democratic gain. And the president himself showed 'em how it’s done with a rip-roarin’ speech to the United Auto Workers that presages the kind of powerful, middle-class appeal he will carry into the fall campaign.