Even if he does win the nomination, Mitt Romney will be haunted by his party's primary season long after it's over VIDEO
In one way, the “vulture capitalism” attacks of Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich are already rebounding to Mitt Romney’s benefit. Major conservative opinion-shapers — many of whom have long been cool toward him — are rallying to his defense and castigating his GOP foes for promoting the same “class warfare” that Barack Obama and the Occupy Wall Street movement are supposedly waging.
This development couldn’t come at a better time for Romney, who has an opportunity to lock up the nomination on Jan. 21 if he can persuade Republicans in the most Tea Party-friendly state in America, South Carolina, to side with him. The scoldings that Gingrich and Perry are receiving from Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and others pose a mortal threat to their efforts to portray themselves as “pure” conservative alternatives to the moderate Romney — who is now being held up by the same opinion-shapers as a symbol of all that’s right with free enterprise. This could completely upend the dynamic that has made so many conservatives hesitant to join the Romney bandwagon.
But the value of the Perry/Gingrich attacks to Romney has a clear shelf life, and will expire the minute he finishes them off and clinches the nomination (assuming he’s able to, of course). At that point, they’ll become a serious problem that will haunt him through the November election, because what Perry and Gingrich are really doing is painting the exact same image of Romney — the rich, jobs-killing “corporate raider” — that Democrats are eager to push. This will provide Romney’s general election opponents with an invaluable talking point (“Even his fellow Republicans are appalled by his business record…”), but it’s the video record that could really hurt.
The 1980 election between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter offers a perfect preview of what we might see this fall. Carter, the incumbent president, came to the general election after an arduous primary war with Ted Kennedy, who stumbled out of the gate but finished with a strong kick that kept his candidacy alive until the August Democratic convention. His candidacy exposed and exacerbated a deep divide within the party, with Kennedy rallying the old New Deal coalition against a White House that they saw as hostile to the party’s major component groups, most notably organized labor. Kennedy’s attacks on Carter were unusually blunt and the campaign was very personal; Kennedy famously refused to shake Carter’s hand when it was finally over.
Just like Perry and Gingrich now, the heart of Kennedy’s case against Carter synced up nicely with the case Reagan wanted to make against the president in the fall. Which is how Kennedy, even though he technically endorsed Carter, emerged as one of the GOP nominee’s most effective surrogates in the fall of 1980. Hoping to capitalize on the Kennedy-Carter rift, Reagan’s campaign launched “Democrats for Reagan” at the end of September, with former Watergate Special Counsel Leon Jaworski serving as its chairman. (Jaworski had actually called Reagan an extremist earlier in the year, but justified his endorsement by saying, “I would rather have a competent extremist than an incompetent moderate.”) The group then launched this television ad:
As Ed Kilgore noted this week, Romney may end up more bruised by the 2012 primary season than any nominee from either party since Carter. The South Carolina campaign could be that ugly for him, even if he does win it. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Obama campaign is already working on an update of Reagan’s Ted Kennedy ad, with Gingrich or Perry (or both) in the starring role. Or maybe they should hold off for a bit: There’s still 10 days to go before South Carolina votes.
Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki More Steve Kornacki.
More Related Stories
- Developers evict historic women's shelter to build luxury hotel
- Guantánamo prisoner on hunger strike cries for help on Twitter
- 3 possible solutions to international tax avoidance
- “I just want the U.S. to send my father home”
- Army weapons engineer tied to white nationalist organizations
- Ted Cruz against the world
- David Vitter's hypocritical, punitive, horrible new amendment
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- Could hackers destroy the U.S. power grid?
- Democrats may be even worse than Republicans at regulating Wall Street
- Eric Holder versus journalism
- A progressive defense of drones
- There's no substitute for government disaster relief
- Holder signed off on search warrant for reporter
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Mike Judge: "Bowling for Columbine" made me pro-gun
- Closing Gitmo is not enough
- Murkowski: Palin too disengaged to run for Senate
- In IRS scandal, new GOP tactic is ignorance
- Code Pink activist berates Obama at national security speech
- Cuomo: "Shame on us" if New York City elects Weiner
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11
War Room is our political news and commentary blog, with coverage and commentary throughout the day.