Mitt Romney’s finally the last man standing, and he finally found the voice he’ll need to overcome the formidable Democratic weapons of money, guilt and gilt.
“After 43 primaries and caucuses,” he told a boisterous crowd in Manchester, N.H., where the marathon began, “after many long days and more than a few long nights, I can say with confidence and gratitude that you have given me a great honor and solemn responsibility.
“To all of the thousands of good and decent Americans I’ve met who want nothing more than a better chance, a fighting chance, I have a simple message: Hold on a little longer. A better America begins tonight.”
Nevertheless, the Democratic weapons of guilt and gilt will be just as formidable this time as last time. Since he can’t run on his record, the president had to find something else, and it’s clear that the something else will be setting class against class, rich against poor, race against race, with appeals to misplaced guilt for sins of the past and renewed appreciation for the gilt of his fairy tales of happy times ahead.
The candidate who four years ago presented himself as the magic formula that would make America “more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous,” now says race in America is “more complicated” than he thought it was. In an interview with Rolling Stone, the rock music biweekly, he now warns that it’s a mistake to think that “we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single cycle.” Maybe a solution will require a second four-year cycle, and after that, who knows?
He used a not-so-subtle form of race-baiting four years ago, encouraging the notion that the only way to move beyond the bad old days, for Americans of good will to demonstrate their liberation from racism and bigotry, was to vote for him. Since the bait worked then, maybe the same old bait can be tweaked with a few more honeyed words to make it work once more.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, evoked a little of the Gipper’s sunny optimism with his best speech of the primary season. He spoke of America’s “destiny” as the exceptional nation, appealing to the American code of hard work and sacrifice, with a focus on the Obama economy with its stuttering recovery and the pain it has spread across the land. He reprised the Gipper’s killer retort — “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” — that sent Jimmy Carter back to the peanut farm.
“Is it easier to make ends meet?” Mr. Romney demanded of the New Hampshire crowd. “Is it easier to sell your home or buy a new one? Have you saved what you need for retirement? Are you making more at your job? Are you paying less at the pump? It’s still about the economy,” he said, recycling another celebrated theme, “and we’re not stupid.” (James Carville, the aide who thought up that one for Bill Clinton in 1992, complained that Mr. Romney stole the line, but conceded that yes, it is still about the economy.)
Indeed, a couple of days after Mr. Romney’s big election night the U.S. Labor Department reported that more Americans than forecast filed for unemployment benefits last week, evidence that President Obama’s cheery excuses for his staggering economy have done nothing to inspire confidence in consumers, on whom a robust recovery depends.
But as powerful as the indictment of Barack Obama’s first four years may be, Mitt Romney must get his message out or the Obama money machine defines Mr. Romney before he can. This requires dollars in the millions. That’s why money is the mother’s milk of politics. “If you’ve got a bad record,” says Haley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and present-day raiser of millions for Republican candidates, “you want to try to disqualify your opponent to make him unacceptable. And the easiest time to do that this time is when Mitt Romney doesn’t have much money or access to much money, and the Democrats do.” At the end of March, the Obama campaign reported $104 million on hand. The Romney campaign had only $10 million. “Obama is sitting on a stack of money so high a show dog couldn’t jump over it,” Mr. Barbour says.
But in the first two days after this week’s primaries, one anonymous Romney fundraiser tells the Hill, the Capitol Hill daily, “People are coming out of the woodwork [with their money].” Now everybody can get down to the real business of democracy.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.