Yes, a win is a win. But winning “ugly” in the primaries has its consequences. It makes you less attractive to the voters you then need to win the general election.
But time heals a lot of wounds in politics, and assuming Mitt Romney will now stumble across the primary finish line, he will have a lot of money, a vice presidential pick, a convention speech, the fall debates and all the other rehabilitative tools that the general-election nominee inherits.
Though Mitt may survive the long road ahead to November, the bigger question is: What has become of the Republican Party, and can it recover from the beating it has taken during this drawn-out process?
Collectively, the GOP candidates have managed to take the hide off of one another and do it in a way that makes the entire party look small, mean and disconnected.
Consider what America has heard from the GOP candidates. Rick Santorum calls the president a “snob” for wanting Americans to go to college, and he says that John Kennedy’s speech about separation of church and state made him want to throw up. Newt Gingrich says he wants to put colonies on the moon. Ron Paul criticized the Civil Rights Act because it “destroyed the principle of private property and private choices.” And the probable nominee says his wife drives a couple of Cadillacs; he doesn’t know much about NASCAR but knows some team owners; he doesn’t care about the poor; he likes “being able to fire people who provide services,” and that “corporations are people, too.”
The Republican Party in recent years has been pulled rightward by a combination of forces, personalities, and issues that are going to make if very difficult to attract the necessary number of independent voters to win a general election. It was good to hear Jeb Bush remind the candidates this week that while appealing to primary voters, they cannot turn off independent voters who will be a necessary part of a winning coalition. Unfortunately, reasonable voices like his are getting fewer and farther between.
And this week we saw one more casualty of the GOP’s consistent drift to the right and insistent demands for ideological purity when Olympia Snowe decided she’d had enough in the U.S. Senate and will not run for reelection.
At a time when America is growing, evolving and becoming more tolerant and diverse, the Republican Party seems to be shrinking, devolving and becoming less tolerant and diverse.
Stuff happens in politics. Rising gas prices shutting down an economic recovery, a nuclear conflict with Iran, or any number of unanticipated events in what seems like an increasingly unpredictable and dangerous world could shift advantages toward Republicans by November.
But with small, ugly wins, Mitt Romney and the GOP have done a pretty good job of burning down the house that Lincoln built.