Sure enough, a tone-deaf GOP establishment (sorry to be banal and use that expression, but it’s accurate enough) deployed Mitt Romney to lob its big volley at Donald Trump after his strong performance on Super Tuesday. The speech was predictable: a grave-sounding indictment of Trump, delivered with Romney’s characteristically earnest but cheerful demeanor.
Whom did the GOP establishment think it was appealing to with the Romney speech? That’s a serious question. Who was the target audience?
If it was aimed at the people who support Trump today, Romney is not the guy to deliver the message. Those people think Romney and candidates like him have been the Republican Party’s chief problem for the last 30 years. They think Romney’s the reason we got four more years of Obama in 2012.
If the speech was aimed at convincing the undecided, it was the dumbest speech ever made for that purpose. It was all about attacking Trump – and on a pretty personal level. That’s not how you persuade the undecided.
Attacking personalities palls on everyone rather quickly. It’s a drive-by tactic. It looks really disproportionate to stage a big, solemn oratorical event just to dump on Trump.
That point leads to the larger one: why have this speech at all? What does the GOP brand buy itself by attacking Trump, in this stately, strained manner?
If the answer is “more cred with the mainstream punditry and the Washington-centric political class,” well, God help the GOP. It’s too stupid to live.
Moving on. Between 30% and 50% of GOP voters, depending on state, have gone for one of [score]Ted Cruz[/score] or [score]Marco Rubio[/score], but it’s hard to see how the Romney speech could have been aimed at them. Those voters have (a) decided, and (b) decided not to vote for Trump in the primaries. Is there something else they’re supposed to do after this speech?
Maybe the speech was intended as the opening salvo in an asymmetrical campaign by the GOP establishment to “broker” the convention in Cleveland. Like, a signal flare that they’re going to fight this Trump dude, or something along those lines. If so, it’s a poorly crafted demonstration. Not only doesn’t it scare anybody, it just makes the Trump divisions more determined.
Even more important, it exposes the GOP establishment further. It shows the establishment’s hand, and generates opposition to its anti-consensual intentions unnecessarily. It’s quite likely that every trial balloon about a brokered convention drives more voters to Trump, out of frustration with the GOP leadership’s highhandedness.
That’s the problem with the establishment’s approach: all it does by coming back again and again at Trump is make him stronger. It’s like the GOP’s top echelon is sending one contender after another at the mythical Antaeus, and every time they throw him to earth, he gains strength.
Of course, if the GOP establishment wants everybody talking about Trump, listening to Trump, listening to other people talk about Trump, focusing on Trump, and waiting to see what Trump will do or say next, then it is doing everything right.
Sending forth Marco Rubio to turn his campaign into an anti-Trump stand-up routine sure worked out, didn’t it? Maybe it got him a big second-place finish in Virginia. (Maybe. Virginia was going to have a high incidence of Rubio voters anyway, because it’s a purple state now.)
But the main thing average, lower-information voters remember about Rubio at this point is a male-appendage joke targeting Trump, and something snarky he said about Trump selling watches. If you asked those voters what Rubio would do about the bad economy, gun rights, or national security, they couldn’t tell you.
On the other hand, they can tell you Trump wants to build a wall at the southern border. And now, thanks to the MSM, they can tell you that Trump has disavowed the KKK quite thoroughly – probably more times in the last week than 90% of career politicians in their political lives, and he’s on video doing it. By the peculiar standard of “disavowing the KKK on national TV,” who out there looks better than Donald Trump?
No matter what they throw at him, it turns into grist for his mill. It’s like watching the Coyote tilt fruitlessly at the Roadrunner, and end up over and over being punched through the edge of a cliff by a falling anvil.
It’s more melancholy than funny to watch, although it has its moments. Perhaps the most poignant moment in recent politics was Romney’s invocation today of the Reagan “Time for Choosing” speech. (Transcription from CNN; link above.)
“I believe with all my heart and soul that we face another time for choosing, one that will have profound consequences for the Republican Party and more importantly, for the country,” Romney said in Utah at the Hinckley Institute of Politics Forum.
The Reagan speech resounds in conservative hearts as a watershed in their, and their country’s, political fortunes, and for good reason. But the truth is, there’s no one who sees Romney and the GOP establishment as the trustees of that legacy. And that would be because they merely deploy Reagan’s words and tone – in this case, for a cheap and ineffectual purpose.
What did Romney pull the Reagan big gun for? Not to inspire his listeners. To attack Trump. Here’s the rest of his passage:
“His domestic policies would lead to recession. His foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president. And his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.”
So, by portentous analogy, Donald Trump is a threat to America on a par with Soviet international Communism. We’re staring into the abyss of a thousand years of darkness, because of Donald Trump. Or something.
The implication here is really over the top, as Jeff Dunetz correctly pointed out (on a related theme) yesterday. And that’s an important exit point. When it comes to being over the top, the GOP establishment is up against the master. It’s out of its league. It can’t win on this battlefield.
I doubt it’s going to learn much between now and Cleveland. Sarah Palin, whatever her faults, understands much better what’s going on in the Republican electorate. And there’s a reason for that. It’s because she sees things from the perspective of the ordinary, middle-class people who are bearing the entire burden of the 20th century’s old consensus: bloated, intrusive government, a government that despises the people and sucks them dry.
Start with respecting that, GOP leaders. No one who doesn’t have a heart, first, for the people and their liberty is going to prosper in trying to wrest the GOP nomination from Trump. You can take that to the bank, with my signature on it.