Long Slog

Mitt Romney Limps Toward Republican Nomination With Super Tuesday Wins

Romney’s Super Tuesday wins position him to face Obama in the fall, but his lackluster results show the GOP will nominate someone far out of step with its basic ethos—and paves the way for even more poisonous politics if he loses.

After Super Tuesday, people should really stop comparing Mitt Romney with John Kerry. Yes, both are rich, socially maladroit, and from Massachusetts. Both have a history of being less than steadfast on important issues. But if Democrats weren’t ecstatic about Kerry in 2004, most still found him broadly acceptable. He had a history as a dashing liberal hero, returning from Vietnam to become a leading voice against that hated war. Certainly, he disappointed liberals by voting for the Iraq invasion, but he otherwise shared their values.

Romney, by contrast, is limping toward the Republican nomination despite being rejected, over and over again, by the Republican base. In this respect, he’s more like Joe Lieberman, who was despised by his party’s grassroots even before he endorsed John McCain for president. Wherever Republicans are strongest, Romney loses, unless there’s a large Mormon population. The drama around the narrow vote in Ohio overshadowed the story of Romney’s trouncing in Tennessee, where he lost by 10 points, despite early uncertainty about the outcome. Even in Virginia, where Ron Paul was the only other person on the ballot, Romney couldn’t quite get 60 percent of the vote. He eked out a win in Ohio by carrying the state’s most liberal, urban regions, while winning broadly in Massachusetts and Vermont, both progressive strongholds.

One might argue that this bodes well for Romney in a general election, since of all the Republicans he’s strongest in the places that actually will be in contention come November. But it’s hard to recall the last time either party nominated someone so far out of step with its basic ethos. What this means is, should Romney lose to Obama, our politics will get even more poisonous, as activist conservatives blame their party’s perceived moderation for its failure. There won’t be a GOP realignment until the party is defeated with a candidate who actually represents its most ardent voters.