Mitt Romney is doomed. Dead man walking. A political zombie. He has no chance whatsoever of becoming the 45th president of the United States.
Yesterday, Romney told a CNBC reporter that the birther nonsense is just that, nonsense.
“I think the citizenship test has been passed,” he told Larry Kudlow. “I believe the president was born in the United States. There are real reasons to get this guy out of office. The man needs to be taken out of office but his citizenship isn’t the reason why.”
That’s an extraordinary statement, and not because Romney acknowledged that the president of the United States is a citizen of the United States. What makes the statement extraordinary is the fact that it even had to be uttered and reported on. When a wild-ass, hare-brained rumor with no foundation whatsoever can become that engrained in our national political debate, it tells you that things have really gotten crazy out there.
In fact, on the same day Romney made that statement, a CNN poll was released showing that Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee are now tied nationwide for the GOP nomination. Huckabee’s presence is no surprise, although I’m beginning to have serious doubts that he intends to run. Trump, however, has managed to almost double his support — from 10 percent to 19 percent — in a month’s time almost solely by banging on the birther drum.
There is, I’ll admit, a certain symmetry to his rise. The birther issue is to politics what Trump’s hair is to cosmetology: a tangled, bizarre and confusing mess, untraceable to its roots and intended to disguise the fact that there’s nothing beneath it.
If Trump’s popularity weren’t startling enough, look at the other potential candidates in the CNN poll. The preferred candidates, in descending order, were Trump and Huckabee, followed by Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Romney, Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann.
In ordinary times, a list of weak challengers like that would be cause for great optimism for Romney. But like the birther issue, they are actually a symptom of his larger, deeper problems. Those people are on the list not despite of their eccentricities, but because of them. Sane ain’t selling these days.
In part because of that weak field, it’s certainly possible for Romney to navigate a course to the nomination. Depending on who else gets in and how the cards fall, he may be able to rally those remaining Republicans who prefer a chance to win in November over a chance to make a statement, and thus become the nominee.
But once he’s standing at the podium in the GOP convention in Tampa, smiling and waving, what happens next?
The party faithful have already made it clear that they will not be happy with another John McCain, whom they perceived as a moderate masquerading as conservative. Logical or not, they blame their loss in 2008 on McCain’s refusal to go for the jugular, and they don’t want a repeat.
And the staid, mainstream Romney — the very picture of a modern major moderate — makes McCain look like the chairman of the local John Birch chapter.
Mike Pence, the Tea Party, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Jim DeMint and those who support them are not going to be satisfied with Mitt Romney as their candidate. If he were to somehow snatch the nomination, they will not work for him and they may not even vote for him. The biggest advantage the Republicans have had is enthusiasm, and that will evaporate if Romney is the candidate.
In fact, if a Romney nomination begins to look inevitable, we will more than likely see the rise of a third-party, conservative alternative that would cement his defeat come November.
It wouldn’t really matter who that person is — a Trump, a Palin, even a Herman Cain — because his or her sole function would be to serve as an empty vessel for the anger and frustration simmering in a large portion of the GOP electorate. And unfortunately for him, that’s a role that Romney is spectacularly ill-equipped to play.
– Jay Bookman