Howard Kurtz of Daily Beast asks, “Will the hard-core anti-Romney pundits come around?” The answer (some will) is less critical than it was before the trifecta win on Tuesday night when it became evident that Mitt Romney has won over virtually every segment of the Republican electorate. The real response to Kurtz then is, “who cares?”
I don’t, by the way, lump all the conservative critics of Romney together. I wouldn’t, for example put Rich Lowry, in the same category a those who averted their eyes from reality. Conservative reporters and analysts who probed and prodded Romney on a variety of issues are not in the same basket as those who made ignoring what he was saying into a fine art form. Holding Romney to an exacting standard is not the same as creating a unique and unattainable standard just for Romney.
But the lesson of the primaries shouldn’t be lost on Republican candidates: The right-wing base is not the entire GOP, and the right-wing media is not all that representative even of the base.
Kurtz makes the point that the right-wing media types don’t necessarily share the singular goal of the Republican electorate, which is to find someone to beat Obama. (“The dreariest scenario for conservative media types, as a Fox executive admits, would be having to halfheartedly defend a Romney administration. Opinion-mongers are in the business of attracting audiences, generating clicks, building brands, stoking outrage — which is very different from assembling a governing coalition.”) Indeed, one could argue it is antithetical to the process of building a governing coalition. Anti-Romney derangement sufferers hoping they can say “I told you so” should Romney lose, will, I suspect, be compelled to incessantly gripe and whine throughout the general election, joining in with left-leaning blogs. Together they will revel in creating and inflating real and imagined Romney gaffes.
Meanwhile, over time, Romney has won the acceptance of the conservative base. He’s toughened his message and filled in details on his tax, entitlement, budget and national security agenda. The same critics that vilified him last year still have their fingers in their ears, refusing to acknowledge the development of Romney’s message and some fairly effective rhetoric (government-centered vs. opportunity society). They are in an intellectual bind, slamming Romney but praising Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), whose agenda and rhetoric is nearly identical to Romney. But consistency is not the anti-Romney gang’s strong suit. When Romney, as he did after Illinois or last night, delivers a muscular conservative speech and his his critics still mope, it’s fair to conclude they aren’t or don’t want to listen.
But the good news for Romney is that this anti-Romney faction doesn’t matter. They didn’t sway the party or affect the course of the primary season. As Romney moves to the general election, these voices become even less relevant. Romney surely isn’t going to pay attention to them or heed their advice, and we know the voters don’t.
This does NOT mean that the base doesn’t matter. It does, and Romney has done a solid job of winning it over and will need to turn the voters out in the fall. (Turnout was up 75 percent in Wisconsin, so Romney’s doing a credible job already.) But the mistake, I would suggest, voters and candidates have made is in taking the conservative dead-enders seriously. Like birthers, they are immune to facts (yes, the delegate math has meant it’s been over for weeks now) and have an agenda that can be entirely at odds with the interests of the GOP and even the conservative movement. The 2012 campaign has, in this regard, been a clarifying experience.