Throughout the GOP primary, the conventional wisdom said that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney would become the Republican presidential nominee, in part because he came across as the “adult in the room.”
Since 2009, the rise of the Tea Party meant that Republicans were playing more toward the base, moving further right and attacking President Barack Obama on a number of things that had nothing to do with policy. He was derided as a socialist, a foreigner, and an illegitimate president who didn’t understand America. While Republicans rode a wave of economic frustration to a House of Representatives takeover in the mid-term election of 2010, the longer they allowed these base elements to dominate the conversation, the more out of touch they appeared with mainstream America. Romney was going to change all of that.
The former Bain Capital CEO became the presumptive nominee because the 2012 election was going to be all about the issue of economics and how to get America back to work after a deep recession. With his decades of business experience, Romney was seen as the most competent in this field. But throughout the primary, he met different challengers, each taking a turn as front-runner, in part because Romney could never truly satisfy the Tea Party base that held resentment toward Obama not only because of his policies, but because of who he is as a person and what he represents.
Where Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, or Rick Perry were at ease with questioning the president’s fundamental American identity, Romney appeared to want to debate the issues. In the end, this is what won out, and we presumed that having won the nomination, Romney’s pivot toward the middle in the general election meant that we had left the other business behind.
That was until he actually started campaigning. For a while, Romney wanted to run on his record as a businessman, but brutal attacks that had begun during the primary about the devastating effects his venture capital firm had on the lives of American workers, added to his evasiveness in releasing his tax returns, made it nearly impossible to make this a single issue election. In order to win, and distract from his own shortcomings, Romney would have to play the game.
He started by repeating that the president “doesn’t understand America,” a phrase that had been unpacked for its racial undertones long ago. He embraced the endorsement of Donald Trump, the ringleader of the “birther” movement that is still not satisfied by the release of Obama’s birth certificate showing he was indeed born in the United States. And while the two campaigned and raised money together, Romney insisted he did not share Trump’s views on the birth certificate non-issue.
However, last week, he decided he would dip his toe in those waters while campaigning in his home state of Michigan and “joke” that no one ever had to ask for his birth certificate, because they know he was born right there. As much backpedaling and damage control as he and his aides have done, it was clear pandering to those still enamored with the president’s origins.
And in a move that pushed an idea originally championed by his rival Gingrich during the primary, when the former speaker of the House took to referring to Obama as the “food stamp president,” the Romney campaign has attempted to gin up racial resentment through proven lies about the president’s views on welfare. Romney has been heard on the campaign trail telling audiences that Obama would like to remove the work requirement from welfare, as ads featuring hard-working white people juxtaposed with the black president trying to take away their hard earned money and give it away to the undeserving, have found their way on air. Even as the claim has been debunked over and over again, Romney continues to run on the idea that Obama is interested in giving away “free stuff.”
Romney’s latest remark with undeniably racial overtones came in an interview with USA Today, where he called so-called welfare waivers that he’s accused the president of doling out are “calculated to…shore up his base.”