The more things don’t change, part 3
2012 from primary to election
The dynamic that shaped the Republican primaries is now shaping the Republican campaign for the White House: Future nominee Mitt Romney is continuing the Rick Santorum strategy of going for the leftovers.
As we know, the GOP primary season from summer 2011 to May 2012 shaped up as a contest dividing the voters from more populous counties, in general, from the voters of less populous counties. The GOP primary race was never between ‘moderate’ and ‘conservative’; all the candidates except in some ways Ron Paul support the same rapacious policies. The primary race was between Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul on one hand and Santorum on the other, the fault line being metropolitan/suburban appeal versus rural appeal. Santorum took most of the less populated counties, and he took states where rural and small-town counties and congressional districts outweigh metropolitan areas and suburbs. In this metric, as previously written, Santorum had the advantage of a divided field among his opponents and the leftovers to himself. Romney, Gingrich and Paul divided the more populated areas.
Now Romney has the Republican electorate all to himself—an electorate dependent on voters in regions where population density is not high, where communications are not good, where newspapers are not strong, and where per capita wealth and computer literacy are most lopsidedly divided between highest and lowest. Meth lab country. ‘Safe states’? The only respectably safe state for Romney is Utah. Romney is inordinately dependent on states that gave Rick Santorum victories—Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee—or that would have boosted Santorum if he could have lasted longer or if he had gotten his electors/delegates on the ballot—Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Texas, West Virginia.
Of the states just mentioned, Texas comes closest to being Romney territory. (Texas also comes closest of these to being Obama territory, but so far the Dems have successfully kept that secret.) As written last week, however, out-of-the-race candidates Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and others pulled several thousand votes in the May 29 Texas primary won by Romney. So did “Uncommitted,” on the GOP ballot: More than sixty thousand voters turned out, in an uncontested Republican primary, to vote NOT for their party’s overwhelming favorite and frontrunner, rejecting even the cachet of putting the nominee over the top.
Enter Donald Trump, with his version of support for Romney.
Trump’s support is hardly intended for ‘swing states’. There is no evidence that Trump has wide popular appeal in Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin. Even in Missouri he looks iffy. Trump’s ‘birth certificate’ ploy is not part of a grand strategy to soften antagonism to Romney among people who work in the automobile industry in Michigan or even in Indiana. No, Trump’s support, his ghastly pitch for birtherism, is a straight-out invitation to the most ignorant counties in the U.S. Grabbing headlines big enough to reach people who don’t read and who distrust the ‘liberal media’ so intensely they refuse to read newspapers or to watch any television news except Fox, Trump is going openly for the voters in the 91 of 95 Tennessee counties won by Santorum.
Regrettably, automobile workers in Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina are seldom allowed to know about Romney’s policy positions. If you want another trillion-dollar war and another trillion-dollar tax cut for speculators and hedge fund managers, Romney’s your man—video clips widely available. But the dearth of newspapers in places that need them most seals up policy discussion as though it were national secrets. The result is ongoing harm to U.S. manufacturing and to working families.
Back to the birthers—
Theoretically Romney came out of the Texas primary as undisputed top dog and all-round GOP winner, safely in a position to train effective opposition against the Democrats and the president for the next five months. No more press hype boosting minor opponents like Tim Pawlenty (see here and here and here). No more unappealing candidates like Bachmann, Gingrich and Santorum trying ham-handedly to swipe at Romney. Right? No more para-candidates like Rudy Giuliani, Sarah Palin and Trump to distract attention from the nominee. Uh. No more specter-candidates like Chris Christie and Jeb Bush as embarrassing reminders of how many GOPers hoped for more latecomers in the race—at least, not yet this week. No more speculation in the political press as to whether Romney will be downed by a much-hyped ‘Christian right’, Tea Party, and ‘rebellion’ in the ranks. Hm.
Theoretically Romney has massive advantages.
- He was a primary candidate who did not flunk the one-look-from-across-a-crowded-room test.
- He presumably has political infrastructure intact at the state level, remaining from a front-loaded primary schedule, copious early money and longstanding organization.
- He will have unprecedented funding from everyone from Karl Rove to the Koch brothers and the Chamber of Commerce in between.
- His campaign has five months to benefit from expensive and misleading television ads.
- He can count on intransigence from Republicans in Congress, to prevent any legislation that would improve the condition of ordinary Americans.
And yet, and yet—he still faces, as previously written, the prospect of some voter sectors not finding a ‘top-tier’ candidate ugly enough for their tastes, and wishing they could have replaced him with someone more transparently unsavory. These are the Manchurian-candidate voters to whom Trump appeals.
If an obvious falsehood triumphs anywhere, it is most liable to triumph in wide-open stretches where mass communications are poor, where former farms produce hay and timber if they’re lucky, and where meth labs start looking like a good way to make a living. Even the most declined neighborhoods in the large industrial states do not tend to be hotbeds of birtherism. Susceptibility to Romney’s claim of being an effective manager is still found more in suburbs than in cities.
Perhaps by now we should all be used to wild claims, and used to the political press reporting wild claims as though they were substantive. Look at the way quintessential Washington insiders and career politicians typically claim to be outsiders, a new start, a fresh face—like Herman Cain, and Santorum with his lobbying career, and Gingrich with his contract with Freddie Mac. To some extent the discrepancies are aired by the national political press, though not as much as they should be and too often as though they are equally endemic to both sides in a national election.
Worse, such factual reporting as survives the filter of the national political press is jeopardized by continuous undertow from the business press. All the major GOP candidates, regardless of stylistic differences, are essentially corporate mouthpieces. Personality differences notwithstanding, the core fiscal trickle-down policy remains intact: it’s rich-get-richer. It’s always there.
They don’t put it that way, of course. The obfuscation is protected by the business press—the same commentators, analysts and journalists who failed to notice the impending mortgage-derivatives crisis and who almost unanimously supported ‘deregulation’. Still do.
It’s the same gang that keeps giving us Orwellianisms about ‘austerity’, ‘debt’, ‘energy’ and ‘jobs’ while doing everything it can to siphon off value from the many and convey it to the few, and a highly unqualified few at that.
Once again, a recent example—U.S. Treasury bills last week sold at a remarkably low rate of interest, yield, meaning that 1) U.S. Treasuries are regarded as rock-solid investment, and 2) their sale saddles the Treasury with little to no debt. But in all the hoopla about ‘the budget’, when was the last time you heard a GOPer in Congress mention the fiscal benefit of issuing U.S. Treasuries at a lower interest rate, to pay off bonds with a higher rate?
Once again, there is an analogy here to refinancing your mortgage. Most people understand the value of refinancing their mortgages if they can get a significantly lower interest rate. It would be illuminating to know which members of Congress have refinanced their houses, just to check on which members understand the same idea. Unfortunately, that information is not publicly available. Residences of congress members are exempted from financial disclosure.
Publicly, in any case, they all go the pro-corporate line of harping on ‘debt’ and ‘deficit’ anyway—except when it comes to discussing corporate debt.
More on Trump’s version of birtherism later