A lot has been said and written in recent days about what parts of Mitt Romney’s struggles — now verging on death throes — are the candidate’s fault, the fault of the campaign, or the fault of the modern Republican Party.
There’s plenty of blame to go around, to be sure. I’ve followed politics professionally for a quarter century and Romney-Ryan 12 is slotting in somewhere in the range of Mondale and Dukakis for sheer ineptness.
(See footnote below for why I’m talking about Romney in the past tense.)
The difference though is that nobody really truly expected those guys to win.
In 2012, a lot of pundits — and the GOP’s conservative base — thought they had an opportunity to kneecap a newly minted Democratic icon. After the 2010 mid-terms, the tea party tide seemed like a national correction.
It turns out not so much. And the time has come to look with a cool head at what portion of woe Mitt Romney has and hasn’t brought upon himself.
First, it’s only fair to point out that Romney is doing just fine among the voters who used to lift Republican candidates into office. He’s winning rural voters, whites, white men, middle class families, older voters, and military veterans, often by handy double-digit margins.
According to the latest Politico-George Washington University poll, Romney holds a commanding 15% lead voters in middle class families. We noted yesterday that a poll shows him up by similar, blow-out margins in rural parts of battleground states.
Romney also appears poised to capture at least two states – Indiana and North Carolina — that eluded John McCain in 2008, and he may well take several other states McCain couldn’t rally, including Colorado or Florida.
So give the guy credit.
The problem, of course, is that winning “old-style” isn’t good enough any more for Republicans.
Since the 1980s, the GOP’s foundational voting bloc has made up a smaller and smaller subset of the overall voting population. Which means that year by year, whopper states that were competitive — like, say, California, Illinois, and New York — have slipped out of reach.
Even safe-base states such as North Carolina and Virginia are tilting more and more purple, and may even be shading blue.
It’s not just that American demographics are changing, though that’s the biggest driver — those constituencies that lifted Reagan just aren’t enough to lift Romney to victory, unless they vote in really high numbers with nearly perfect discipline.
Also significant is the fact that modern politics are increasingly tribal, increasingly ironclad.
In their respective wins, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter both built interesting coalitions of open-minded voters.
Carter merged Northeastern moderates, blacks and southern Whites. Reagan cobbled together a weird coalition that won New York and California but lost Minnesota and West Virginia.
Romney clearly hoped to do something similar, hoping to expand the GOP’s southern and Midwestern base with wins in places like Colorado, Ohio and Wisconsin. He took a stab at chipping away the Democrats’ lead among women and Hispanics.
It just didn’t happen. And probably wouldn’t have happened, even if Romney ran a much smarter, better campaign. In fact, what would have been needed is a brilliant campaign, an over-the-top campaign. A second Ronald Reagan. A second Bill Clinton.
But you can’t run a political movement on the “Great Man” theory, hoping for a savior every four years.
So give Romney credit for doing about as well as Republicans have done over the last quarter century with roughly the same groups that powered the Bush clan to victory in three different elections.
This time around, it looks like Romney will be left holding the bag for a formula that may no longer be politically viable.
(A lot of national political journalists – folks several pay grades above me — are still arguing that this is a competitive race. Unless something unforeseen happens, I can’t find facts to support that narrative. Real Clear Politics concludes that Obama has 247 electoral college votes in his column now, and that’s without Ohio, Nevada or Virginia where the Democrat leads by more than 4 points and perhaps as much as 8 points among likely voters. Obama is also leading now in every battleground state, including North Caroline. There is also not, as some journalists have suggested, “an eternity” left in the campaign. There are 42 days. In an electorate that has budged only stubbornly all year, 42 days is exactly what it looks like…not much time.)