It’s not easy putting together a playlist for a Republican party.
Young, chart-topping pop stars overwhelmingly favor the left. As do the authors of pop music’s most iconic — and incendiary — melodies.
In just the last two weeks, Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider asked Paul Ryan to quit playing his song, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” And Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine — said to be one of Mr. Ryan’s favorite bands — wrote a piece for Rolling Stone declaring that Mitt Romney’s VP pick embodies the machine his band rages against.
So it comes as no surprise that the biggest headliners at parties associated with the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., this week aren’t exactly blowing up top-40 radio — some of them, in fact, haven’t had bona fide hits since before Mr. Ryan was prom king. The lineup is light on women, young people, and minorities, and skews old, white, and male. In other words: exactly the constituencies the Romney-Ryan campaign hopes will turn out in force this November.
Representing pro-military, yellow-ribbon voters, there’s Trace Adkins, who through his Wounded Warrior Project commercials and frequent USO tours has become the public face of country music’s national pride. Lynyrd Skynyrd personifies the party’s NASCAR vote; the band’s appeal in the South is unparalleled — just like the sport.
Then there’s Kid Rock, the platinum-selling rapper-turned-Southern-rocker who has supplied the Romney campaign’s theme song (“Born Free”) and is appearing in Tampa at an invite-only party. Rock is the rare pop star that has found success at the four-way intersection of patriotism, rap, rock, and the Deep South.
In many ways, Mr. Romney can look at Rock and see not just a surrogate with white working-class appeal, but also a protege. It might seem odd that a caffeine-free, teetotaling Mormon politician would employ the music of a rap-rocker who scared parents nationwide by affixing the image of an extended middle finger to his breakthrough album (“Devil Without a Cause”); or aggressively court the endorsement of an artist some of whose milder lyrics involve starting up “an escort service for all the right reasons.” But a careful look at their resumes reveals surprising similarities — in biography and strategy.
Both men were born in Michigan to varying levels of comfort, and grew up with fathers in the automobile business — Rock’s dad owned a car dealership, Mr. Romney’s ran American Motors. In their adult lives, both salesmen have downplayed their privileged upbringings to appeal to a base of working-class males. For Mr. Romney, this has meant stepping up to the mike and opening with: “Morning, y’all.” Rock has reached out by naming his band Twisted Brown Trucker and singing/rapping: “I’m straight out the trailer, cuss like a sailor.”
The similarities don’t stop there. Both men are into horses — Rock has several on his 50-acre ranch; Mr. Romney’s wife, Ann, had a filly in the Olympics. And each man has had trouble with women: Mr. Romney is on the wrong side of the gender gap with female voters, especially so with younger, unmarried women; Rock, one of Pamela Anderson’s former husbands, once told the U.K.’s Independent that if he could change one thing about himself he’d remove “the bimbo-attractor chip that God must have placed in me at birth.”
Finally: Both Rock and Mr. Romney know that in order to broaden their bases, each will need to prove that their ideas have evolved since the Bush years.
As we know, Mr. Romney personally courted Rock’s endorsement — driving out to his home in Clarkston, Mich. for a tete a tete — to get his support in the state. But Rock has much to gain from the association as well. Whether prospecting for fans or voters, Rock and Mr. Romney are mining the same demographic seam.