Romney and the Shouters

The race for the Republican presidential nomination is all over but the shouting, to resort to an old cliché, but there still seems to be a good deal of shouting left.

Mitt Romney’s clean sweep of Tuesday’s primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., only put him a bit more than halfway to the number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination, but it nonetheless made clear he’ll have a smooth ride through the other half. The contest in D.C. can be easily dismissed, as there are only a half-dozen or so Republicans living in the capital city and at this point most of them are probably employed by the Romney campaign, while the win in neighboring Maryland is barely more impressive. The respectable four-point victory in Wisconsin is more convincing, though, because if former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum’s blue-collar image and pro-manufacturing message can’t win there it is hard to see what states left to be contested he can win.

Yet Santorum vows to remain in the race, as do long shot candidate Newt Gingrich and no-shot candidate Ron Paul, and there is still considerable grumbling among a significant portion of the party about Romney’s candidacy. Tune into any of the conservative talk radio shows and you’ll hear it from every other caller, or surf your way through the right side of the blogosphere and you’ll read it in every other post. The discontent also shows up at the polls, where Romney is still falling short of 50 percent in many states.

Much of the opposition to Romney is based on the health care reform bill he implemented while governor of Massachusetts, a valid complaint for conservatives fuming about the suspiciously similar Obamacare law, but there also seems to be a more visceral resentment on the part of Republicans who consider themselves outsiders that the perceived candidate of the “elites” is winning the nomination. Romney’s well-groomed, well-educated, and well-heeled persona also seems to be a problem with a certain segment of the party.

Some disgruntled Republicans might even sit out a general election between Romney and Obama, but Democrats would be well advised to not overestimate their number. Despite his frequent deviations from conservative orthodoxy Romney remains far to the right of Obama, and once the race is officially over that will become clear even to the most disappointed conservatives. It should also become clear, once Romney has sewn up the nomination, that the vast majority of Republicans who did vote for him could not possibly all be “elites.” Nor should the Democrats overstate how much damage the protracted Republican battle is doing to the party, as most voters have stopped paying attention to the anticlimactic race and won’t hear the criticisms being leveled against Romney by his remaining rivals.

The barbs of Santorum, Gingrich, and their many supporters might even prove an advantage to Romney in the general election. It won’t be easy for the Democrats to caricature Romney as an extreme right-wingers after so many months of extreme right-wingers shouting that Romney isn’t one of them.

— Bud Norman

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