History may well record that Barack Obama and Democrats won the 2012 elections, and Mitt Romney and Republicans lost the 2012 elections, in the period that began with Bill Clinton’s speech to the Democratic convention and ended with the leak of Mitt Romney’s private speech to wealthy donors during which he insulted giant swaths of the American electorate.
The Clinton speech validated President Obama as having improved the catastrophic economy he inherited because it was given by the only living former president identified by a large majority of voters as having brought about a great and fondly remembered era of American prosperity.
The leaked Romney video was a major and potentially epochal blunder because it reinforced the pre-existing condition of Romney and Republicans being viewed by voters as favoring elites and feeling contempt for large masses of voters. In the most profound political sense the Romney video created a reverse Rorschach,” by which I mean this:
In a straight Rorschach, a candidate says things that convince widely disparate voters that he is really speaking for them. In the reverse-Rorschach, the candidate says things that convince widely disparate voters that he is really insulting and demeaning them, which is what happened with the Romney video. It was not a gaffe, because Romney believes the words he said. It was a catastrophic blunder, because voters learned in stark and widely repellent terms what Romney (and many Republicans) actually believe.
Some commentators are only now figuring out now that Romney is alienating many white men. But even in my columns championing Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, supporting pay equity and criticizing Republican attacks on the interests of women, I always emphasized that the interests of men and women are mostly aligned on the matters I wrote about.
When Newt Gingrich, and now Mitt Romney, attack the “food-stamp president,” they believe they are dog-whistling an insult that applies to them, i.e., minorities. They fail to understand that there are poor white males, and jobless white males, who are protected from dying of starvation by programs such as food stamps.
When Mitt Romney insults what he calls 47 percent of the nation whom he claims to be dependents who enjoy being victimized, and whom he implies are freeloading on government programs, the number of those the elite and out-of-touch Romney actually insults in his reverse-Rorschach is more like 60 or 70 percent. To wit:
American farmers have a complex relationship with government programs, especially those designed to help them through hard times or recognize the unique complexities of their business, which does so much to feed the nation.
There is political harm to the GOP when Republicans in Washington attack and obstruct the farm bill, especially with such great pain from the drought in the heartland, while Romney expresses contempt for those he implies are freeloading, which reasonable farmers might conclude Romney believes includes them.
American seniors benefit from Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. It does the GOP great political harm when they see Republicans in Washington attack these programs. When Romney accuses masses of voters of being freeloaders and deadbeats, many reasonable seniors conclude: “He means me.” Ditto veterans, whom I wrote last week are heroes, not dependents. Ditto those on auto assembly lines, whom Obama and Democrats rescued, despite Republican contempt.
Workers (men as well as women, whites as well as minorities) who would build the roads, bridges and schools that Obama and Democrats would build, over Republican objection, might reasonably conclude that Romney includes them in his declarations of derision toward those he considers deadbeats on government programs he proudly despises, including those that would give them jobs.
And so: A campaign that had been locked at even for many months has changed to advantage-Obama. Democratic Senate candidates have begun to surge. The odds of Democrats gaining more seats in the House have risen and, if the trend continues, Democratic control of the House is increasingly plausible. Why?
The Clinton bounce was followed by the Romney fall, which now infects the Republican brand at all levels. The reverse-Rorschach of the Romney video is hurting Republicans across the board. Maybe the debates will change this. Maybe not.
Romney is losing because he now embodies an attitude of demeaning, derision and disrespect that poisons Republicans today in ways that Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp and William F. Buckley would never have accepted.
Opponents become enemies. Government itself becomes evil. Citizens become deadbeats. Patriots become dependents when they disagree with Republicans. Fact-checkers are ridiculed. Science becomes Satan.
Romney is losing because he pandered to the wrong people, and his party is paying the price. Mitt Romney in his video created the largest enemies list in the history of American politics. He is losing because he has convinced a majority of voters that they are on it.
Published: Wednesday, 26 September 2012