In his column today, Ross Douthat has some words of praise for Mitt Romney, who's likely to be the next senator from Utah. But he's mostly critical:
For all that he is upright and decent and loves his country, Romney was also part of #HowYouGotTrump, and what he might have to offer today depends to some extent on whether he realizes it....
Douthat blames Romney for Trump not just because Romney made a great show of accepting Trump's endorsement in 2012. More important, in Douthat's view, was this:
... the defining pitch of the Romney campaign was the tone-deaf “you built that,” which valorized entrepreneurs and ignored ordinary workers; the defining policy blueprint was a tax reform proposal that offered little or nothing to the middle class; and the defining gaffe was the famous “47 percent” line, in which Romney succumbed, before an audience of Richie Riches, to the Ayn Randian temptation to write off struggling Americans as losers.
As a result, whether in his father’s Michigan, in his running mate’s Wisconsin, or in Pennsylvania where he campaigned hopefully near the end, downscale white voters who could have gone Republican either voted for Obama or stayed home. And in that failure lay the opportunity that Trump intuited — for a Republican candidate who would rhetorically reject and even run against the kind of corporation-first conservatism that Romney seemed to embody and embrace.
Douthat goes on to write,
Since taking office, of course, Trump has mostly turned his back on his own economic populism — and lost much of his modest-to-begin-with popularity in the process.
But while governing as a great friend of the plutocrats may have alienated Trump's soft supporters from 2016, most of his voter base is still with him. In fact, there's the possibility that he's making a mini-comeback: In the last Gallup tracking poll for 2017, Trump reached 40% approval for the first time since late September. Sure, his disapproval is still at 55% -- but until the tax bill passed, his disapproval had exceeded his approval by 20 or more points throughout December; once the bill was finalized, the gap began to narrow to its current 15%.
Douthat fervently believes that there's a national constituency for so-called reform conservatism, which rejects liberalism but displays some compassion for ordinary Americans. But most of the base is perfectly content with standard-issue Republicanism. Trump's phony populism might have been what put him barely in the lead in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin (with a lot of help from Russia, James Comey, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, self-righteous Bernie-or-Busters, and an email-obsessed mainstream media) -- but it's just as likely that Trump won because he bashed Democrats better than Romney had, or because he was better at being a hero plutocrat than Romney was, carrying himself as more of a swashbuckling capitalist than a bean-counter.
Whatever the case, there's no evidence that the vast majority of Republicans want a standard-bearer who's a reformicon. Douthat approvingly cites Marco Rubio -- but nobody cared about Rubio's "son of a bartender and a maid" schtick in 2016, nor were GOP voters interested in mailman's son John Kasich.
They want to believe in the heroic, beneficent rich. They've nominated wealthy men with multiple homes in five straight presidential elections. That's who Republicans are, even the ones in Bugtussle diners.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog