Via TPM, a valentine from the nominal frontrunner to grassroots conservatives on the day of the big vote in Michigan. On the one hand, it is true that calling the Chinese “motherf***ers” or, say, mumbling about O’s birth certificate can get you traction with some populists who are spoiling for a take-it-to-’em campaign in November. Four words, my friends: “Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.”
On the other hand, John McCormack’s right. The reason we’ve cycled through Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich, and now Santorum as top-tier challengers to Mitt isn’t because they’ve sequentially one-upped each other in how much tasty rhetorical red meat they’re willing to plate. It’s because the base doesn’t trust Romney and will seize on whoever the most viable alternative is at any given moment. (That’s why Newt hasn’t dropped out. He’s one Santorum stumble away from being legit again and he knows it.) Look no further than the trends in national polling: Newt’s decline right after Florida almost perfectly coincides with Santorum’s surge. Anti-Romney voters simply dropped one (comparatively) conservative Not Mitt for another. What’s “exciting” them is their horror at nominating an uncharismatic serial flip-flopper whom they disdain, and who obviously disdains them. And tied up in all of this, of course, is the conventional wisdom that using “incendiary” rhetoric to win primary votes will make the eventual nominee less viable in the general by dragging him further away from the center. Given Romney’s track record of political opportunism, what would happen if you could prove to him statistically that calling Obama a socialist would attract independents in the general election instead of driving them away? Would Mitt still object to using that term on principle or would it be time for a second look at red meat? That is to say, how much of his smugness in the clip is justified by being genuinely above-the-fray and how much of it is just a pose aimed at dismissing Santorum as a cheap rhetorical bottom-feeder?