By Paul Goldman
Each of the 4 Virginia GOP Senate candidates in yesterday’s debate pointedly refused to endorse Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination. Washington Post reporter Robert McCartney said this result proved the strength of the Tea Party. Say what?
We will give rookie VA reporter McCartney a pass: he might better spend his time listening to old Beatles records — like the song, “I’m a loser, I’m not what I appear to be” – to understand the mindset of the VA GOP right now.
The Tea Party is yesterday’s news. What strength? They despised Romney, and yet Mitt-ster will be the nominee. The Tea Party’s favored candidates in the GOP nomination process – Herman Con and Michele Backwards – were crushed by a conservative Republican electorate. Romney’s main challenger turned out to be a social conservative by the name of Rick Santorum, another former Senator the fiscally conservative Tea Partiers despised.
The Tea Party couldn’t even get a candidate on the VA GOP presidential ballot. As for the U.S. Senate Republican primary ballot this June, their alleged favorite, Ms. Radtke, will be utterly crushed at the polls. As for the suggestion that Tea Party support is what makes Ken Cuccinelli the favorite over Bill Bolling next year in the GOP GUV primary, this is absurd: the AG had been an elected official a long time before the Tea Party even existed. The Tea Party is riding shotgun to Cuccinelli, not the other way around.
Or as they say: Kenny G was Tea Party before it was cool. Cuccinelli is the real deal, the Tea Party just something out of Alice in Wonderland.
In fact, not only does Cuccinelli not need the Tea Party to win, it’s the Tea Party which needs Cuccinelli to have any semblance of relevancy in Virginia next year.
The correct interpretation of yesterdays’ GOP debate is this: It showed not Tea Party strength, but Mr. Romney’s incredible generic weakness in the Republican Party.
Think about it. The guy got 56% of the vote in the VA presidential primary. He has the support of the Governor and all the top party officials except for Mr. Cuccinelli. But even the AG has publicly resigned himself to Romney being the GOP nominee. Almost every rational GOP loyalist tells pollsters they realize Mr. Romney will be the nominee.
YET: In a race among 4 Republican U.S. Senate hopefuls to be decided by these very voters, influenced by these very party officials, NOT ONE was willing to endorse Romney.
That’s mind boggling.
What does it say? Simply this: Not one of these 4 candidates believe there is any hope of a passionate pro-Romney constituency voting come this June, even though by then he will have enough delegates to be the de jure nominee.
You would have thought at least one – George Allen for sure – would have wanted to be the pro-Romney person in the race. How could it hurt to openly support the only person in America who, theoretically at least, could do what 99% of the GOP voters passionately want — defeat the Democratic President.
It’s Romney or nothing — so how can it hurt to be for him in a GOP primary? Romney has moved as far right as the Flat Earth Society latitude and longitude will allow. But, apparently, it is better to be seen as supporting forced trans-vaginal ultrasounds than to be depicted as possibly pro-Romney in the VA GOP right now. This reality isn’t something gleaned from polling data, but from 4 real-time candidates, who have been campaigning for months, getting the pulse of the party.
Again, think about it: NOT ONE Virginia Republican candidate for U.S. Senate dared risk having another candidate, or a voter at some rally, call them pro-Romney. Do you think they would have been so fearful if Rick Santorum were the de facto GOP nominee right now?
This situation speaks volumes about the former Massachusetts Governor’s political standing here in Virginia, and the nation too. Romney’s support inside the GOP is basically all anti-Obama, with little expectation that will change in the next 6 weeks, among those with the most reason to follow such things.
It further suggests Governor McDonnell, a leading Romney supporter, has little clout right now within his own party, something Lt. Governor Bill Bolling had best realize. The Governor’s standing in the VA GOP could change, but there is more precedent for it becoming less important next year, when McDonnell is a lame duck.
This is the real “Anybody But Romney” story the mainstream media, as they are called, is underreporting. It should become a leading topic at the next GOP Senate debate: Even those who have to be on the ballot with Romney don’t want to be on the ballot with Romney.
Again, think about it: You have three candidates in the GOP race desperate for an issue and one – George Allen – who is backed by almost all of what counts as the pro-Romney forces in the Commonwealth.
BUT NOT A ONE is willing to even give the certain nominee of their party – the guy whose fate at the top of the ticket will very likely determine the outcome of the Virginia U.S. Senate race this November – a positive shout out?
Not to endorse is one thing. But outright fear of being seen as overly positive toward the guy who is 100% certain to be the party’s nominee for president? Amazing.
How can this be? Consider: a poll of likely GOP voters in the presidential primary showed close to half saying Romney was not a Christian. The closeness of the primary contest with Ron Paul back in March was thus a bigger warning sign than generally appreciated by the media.
Verdict: Even now, with Republicans in Virginia knowing Romney is their only ABO – Anybody but Obama – option, the party faithful largely don’t want to accept the inevitable, this being apparent to the 4 candidates as they campaign around the state.
Even Reverend Jackson – the Republican, not Jesse – who has nothing to lose and everything to gain by being the pro-Romney Senate candidate, refused.
Sorry Mr. McCartney, but this fleeing from Romney isn’t caused by fear of the Tea Party. It is simply the oldest calculation in politics: I gain nothing for backing Romney so why risk any downside?
At least John McCain in 2008 had a pro-defense image that lukewarm Republicans were willing to identify with. Right now, Romney has no such positive virtue. To the contrary, Romney’s main achievement as Governor is viewed by Republicans as Obamneycare; Romney’s business resume is a double edged sword; and the Mormon issue is right there under the surface.
All this is a formula for a weak candidacy come November, unless voters become far more anti-Obama than they are now.
But you say, by the Fall, the GOP faithful will fall in line. Is that so certain, at least to the extent Romney needs it to have any chance of carrying Virginia, and thus the presidency?
Meanwhile, the June Senate primary comes first. And on that front, not a single Senate hopeful – even those desperate for votes and with nothing to lose by taking a chance – is willing to bet on any meaningful benefit in backing the party’s presumptive presidential nominee. Astounding.