Romney Swipes Gingrich’s Base

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Photo: Charles Dharapak/AP

Mitt Romney is pulling away in Florida, which has less to do with a “more focused message” or increased “swagger,” or any other narrative the press reads into it, than a simple ability to spend Newt Gingrich into the ground. (The television ad disparity has been about four to one.)

One interesting aspect of Romney's impending triumph is that he has consolidated the support of extremely right-wing elements within the party. You can see this as both a cause and a result of his victory — a cause in that he has successfully eaten into the natural base of a right-wing challenger, and a result, in that his ascent has helped portray him as a more natural Obama-slayer. Marin Cogan interviews one Romney supporter:

This was a classic Romney crowd — mostly older, a chinos-wearing set, representative of the small but intense 25-30 percent of Republican primary voters who actually seem excited by the most unexciting aspects of his campaign: the hyper-professionalism, the careful attention to detail, the promises not to over promise. To them, the qualities that pundits keep dinging Romney for — his stiffness and his overcaution — are his best assets. He's the safe, boring alternative to the scary, volatile Obama years.

"We hate Obama. I don't know if you want to print that or not," Kolk says. "Everything's the opposite of the way it used to be. I feel very un-American with Obama and I think Mitt Romney can think on his feet. He's not all flash."

The attire may be dull but the underlying sentiments expressed here are white-hot. The idea that Romney can “think on his feet,” and that Obama is all “flash,” expresses a common right-wing trope that Obama is actually an idiot: a charismatic speaker but helpless when not reading from prepared text. That is the basis for the GOP’s otherwise inscrutable obsession with TelePrompTer jokes – the TelePrompTer is an extremely common political tool, but many conservatives have come to believe that Obama would be helpless without it. That belief accounts for a major portion of Gingrich’s appeal — he has painted an appealing picture of himself exposing the stammering dope in a lengthy series of debates. Among other problems, this fantasy ignores the actual history of Obama’s debate performances, such as:

But the salient point is that Romney has managed to co-opt it for himself. Likewise, it’s telling that he nabbed the support of crazy right-wing actor Jon Voight, and that Voight praised Romney (and assailed Gingrich) while uncorking lines such as claiming that Obama "decided to follow his father's footsteps and take us to socialism.”

Now, Romney himself has accused Obama of introducing socialism to America. But Voight includes the added twist that Obama imbibed his socialism from his father. And that is Gingrich’s shtick. Gingrich, unlike Romney, has taken the wild socialism smear to its even-more-crazed next step by tracing Obama’s alleged socialism to the genetic influence of his absent father. It is the definitive mark of Romney’s triumph that he has managed to nab from Gingrich the votes of even the Kenyan socialism fearmongerers.