All Things to All People, President to None

Mitt Romney is now reduced to begging people to believe he gives a crap. Limping along with a self-inflicted wound across 47% of its body, the Romney campaign has released a new ad assuring America that their candidate isn't a psychopath and is capable of human emotion. "Compassionate conservatism" again enters the conversation and again causes some to ask why the word "compassionate" must be added to the word "conservatism." Modern conservatives tend to leave the compassion out of their politics. Remember how terrible they argued empathy was?

Just as Republicans apparently prefer unfeeling automatons as judges, who'll hand down verdicts and rulings without caring whose lives they ruin, so they apparently (or at least naturally) prefer the same sort of robotic coldness in their politicians. Consider their love for "tough talkers" who tell "hard truths" and "make the tough decisions." You know, guys like Paul Ryan. What they're really saying in all this is that they need people who'll do what they think needs to be done and who don't care who they offend or screw over. The emotionless psychopath is the perfect conservative leader, just as it's the perfect conservative judge.

And that fact, combined with Mitt Romney's current emo-trouble, brings up a very interesting question: can a candidate appeal to the Tea Party base and the general electorate and go on to win national office? So far, that's looking like a no. Romney had to go behind the scenes to rip on freeloaders and welfare queens. Now that it's right out there, his big chore is convincing everyone he didn't mean it. He's even throwing the anti-healthcare reform people under the bus.

"Don't forget - I got everybody in my state insured," Romney told an NBC affiliate in Toledo. "One-hundred percent of the kids in our state had health insurance. I don't think there's anything that shows more empathy and care about the people of this country than that kind of record." Heathcare reform is good until he talks to someone who thinks it's not. A social safety net is important until he needs to talk about freeloaders.

And this has been a big part of Romney's flip-flop, etch-a-sketch problem all along: the Republican base -- who a primary candidate has to appeal to -- lacks anything resembling human decency. I'm talking the real wingnut, fever-swamp, birther base with talk-radio-controlled brains here. They don't disagree with people, they hate people. They hate the poor and gays and women seeking abortions or birth control. They hate environmentalists and atheists and immigrants. They hate kids on free school lunch programs and public employees and community organizers. I could go on, but it's easier just to say they hate everyone who isn't a Republican. And not just any Republican, but their idea of a perfect Republican. Anyone else is a "RiNO."

But you can't win a national election that way. It's like you have to act like a lunatic for the base, then pretend to have been cured somewhere along the way. You have to be a multiple-personality candidate -- an unfeeling hard-ass for the 'bagger crowd and a person capable of empathy for everyone else. And it's looking like it simply cannot be done. The contradictions are just too extreme.

If Mitt Romney does manage to pull this out of a tailspin and win, it'll be despite the Tea Party base, not because of them. And if he loses (the more likely scenario), that same base will conclude he wasn't extreme enough -- that he wasn't cold enough and hateful enough and cruel enough. That he was a RiNO.

And in a prime example of learning the exact wrong lesson from their mistakes, the base will probably demand even more extremist leadership.

I'm willing to be proven wrong on that one, but I doubt I will be.


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