September revealed some things not just about Mitt Romney, but also about many of his supporters, especially why conservatives support Romney.
Just after midnight on September 12, the Republican presidential nominee released a statement about the murder of the US ambassador to Libya and three others that said the Obama administration’s first response was to “sympathize with those waging the attacks.” In a statement to the New York Times, which was partially retracted, the campaign admitted it made the statement because the attacks in Benghazi fit its narrative:
“We’ve had this consistent critique and narrative on Obama’s foreign policy, and we felt this was a situation that met our critique.”
About a week later, the website Mother Jones released a portion of a tape showing Romney speaking at a fundraiser where the Republican presidential nominee criticized forty-seven percent of the country because they:
“Are dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them . . . These are people who pay no income tax. . . . my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
After each of these statements, veteran Republicans came out against Mitt Romney. Former Reagan administration Department of Defense official Lawrence Korb was “appalled” that Romney politicized the embassy attack. Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan said on Fox News that Romney was exposing himself to “accusations” that he was “trying to exploit things politically.”
Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum criticized Romney’s decision to insult the unemployed as “a destructive way to think.” Calling the comments “stupid and arrogant,” Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol pointed out that, considering many people in the “47 percent” are seniors and military personnel, “Romney seems to have contempt not just for the Democrats who oppose him, but for tens of millions who intend to vote for him.”
The curious part about Romney’s missteps is not just that some of his most vocal supporters in the midst of this represent the wing of the GOP that fought hardest against his nomination, conservatives, but through print, radio, and television many have large audiences and agree with what Romney says and how he says it.
Writing for The American Spectator, J. P. Freire tried to turn the issue around by making the case that it is Obama who is “guilty of speaking too soon” regarding the administration’s protean response to the September 11 embassy attack and saying “Romney’s initial statement stands on its own.” The Obama administration does have a timeline that has evolved – saying the attacks were spontaneous and motivated by a film to a premeditated attack, but it does not alter the fact that the Romney campaign issued a statement that fit a narrative before checking whether the administration chose to “sympathize with those waging the attacks.”
At his RedState.com website, CNN contributor Erick Erickson wrote:
“[Republican elitists] seem to think that if they cry and scream loud enough and point fingers at Mitt Romney, they’ll again be protected from any sort of blame. They think the conservative movement will give them a pass just as the movement did with No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, Harriet Miers, TARP, etc.”
“The staggering irony is that those of us who did not want Romney are now the ones defending him to the hilt while the elitist jerks are distancing themselves from Romney as quickly as possible.”
On his popular radio show on September 18, Rush Limbaugh said:
“When [Romney] talks to his donors about these 47% that are locked into Obama, he does it with disappointment, sadness, and maybe a little disgust. Where everybody analyzing this is wring is he would love to be able to reach them. He has not written them off. He’s telling his donors various things, but I do not believe he’s written them off.”
What all of this captures is how beholden many self-proclaimed conservatives are to the Republican Party. As Erickson’s comment reveals, conservatives have a history of looking the other way. The name of his website, Red State, refers to the color of states won by Republicans on electoral maps on TV, so the name immediately puts emphasis on partisan electoral victories over anything philosophically driven.
More than 8.75 million Republican primary voters, or almost 46%, voted against him in the first round of voting, so Romney was far from the first choice of the right wing in 2012. Yet, by choosing pragmatism and partisanship, the transition of conservatives from Romney opponents to his strongest supporters highlights a potentially perilous situation.
As this Benjamin Domenech article relates, the salient reason conservatives support Romney is because it is the best way to beat Obama. So long as conservative members of the Republican Party believe that “President Obama is the worst president in American history” or that “American cannot survive another four years of Obama,” all of Romney’s shortcomings, gaffes, and foolish statements are not held against him. This move might help take Romney to the finish line, but it also demonstrates how little control conservatives have in their party and how many are giving up philosophy for partisanship on Election Day.