Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts Governor, moved a step closer to becoming the Republican nominee last night. The voters of Indiana, North Carolina and West Virginia all voted in his favor, giving him 900 of the 1,144 delegates he needs to seal the nomination and run for president.
He has got this far by promoting himself as the moderate Republican. As the Republican most likely to sweep up independents disgruntled or downright angry with Obama’s policies. However, two events last night are undermining Romney’s efforts to sell himself out to the so-called middle ground.
First, Barack Obama polled 7 points clear of Romney in the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday. This is an increase of 3 points on from the last one in April. Obama now has 49 percent compared to Romney’s 42, Obama is up from 47 and Romney down from 43 in April. To make matters worse, Obama’s Approval Rating is creeping up and now stands at 50 percent. If Romney cannot appeal to the middle for his votes, who can he appeal to?
To say his Republican ‘base’ is less than confident in him is an understatement, but Richard Lugar’s ousting as Indiana’s longest-serving Senator is a lesson for Romney for what happens when you compromise as a Republican in 2012. After 36 years in the Senate, Lugar has been ousted in the Indiana primary by a Tea Party nominee called Richard Mourdock. The Mourdock effect, an energetic and uncompromising view is likely to have a ripple effect down other Republican nominations and could propel Tea Party favorites such as Kristi Risk and John McGoff onto the election night tickets.
Lugar lost because he compromised with the Democrats and alienated his base. He’d always been given leeway by his voters, but never saw his compromises as diminishing his connection with his base. They did. The base reacted and 67 of the 92 Republican County Chairs switched to Mourdock. For his part, Mourdock has promised to build the biggest Republican party, one so big it absolutely will not compromise with the Democrats, ever.
Romney should look at Mourdock’s backers and how effectively they won the argument in Indiana because it is going to be repeated across the nation. He got his backing from powerful and moneyed groups such as Club For Growth, Tea Party Express, Freedom Works, Citizens United, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Indiana Right to Life. These groups are hyper-local and national, they cross borders, have affiliations all over the place and have powerful campaign networks. They are groups of individual voters and not just big businesses. They are people who will be heard, but is Romney listening?
Governor Romney is the presumptive Republican nominee now. No one can hope to overturn his lead in the delegates stakes. The right of the party is fractured, but powerful. It is well organized and uncompromising. They stand up for a right to life, small government, small taxes and Christian ethics.
He needs to face the wider world too. There is the war in Afghanistan and the Iraqi legacy, the return of the Russian dictator Putin, the destabilizing debt crisis in Europe, the leaderlessness of democratic India, the anonymous dictatorship and oppressions of China, who holds America’s debts and the slow decline and death of Japan, America’s greatest ally in Asia.
Back home, Romney is faced with the problem of the economy. The Democrats are rubbing their hands with glee about the election of Socialist President Hollande in France, but the Tea Party and other Republican activists are standing for something else: small government. The people do not want taxes or addiction to the state, businesses want the freedom to hire and fire, to generate wealth and spend it how they want. They want to be able to go about their business whether it be shopping, meeting friends or picking up a parcel from their local distribution center without the government sticking its nose into their business.
Romney has to define the America he stands for. He needs to stand for a strong America. If he engages his base he will win that identity, he will win their support and energize the base. If polls are to be believed, if he goes for the middle and loses, he will not only lose the middle voters, but his base too and President Obama will be reelected. If nothing else, Romney needs to understand why Lugar fell, then maybe he won’t.