Mitt Romney’s True Believer Problem

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Ed Kilgore comments on a New York Times piece highlighting Mitt Romney’s willingness to do and say anything to win the Republican nomination:

If that’s true, then Romney’s efforts to pretend he’s the “true conservative” in the campaign have been something of a waste of time. All he really needs to do is to prove he has absolutely no conscience or inhibitions about negative campaigning. Because that’s what “base” activists want more than anything else, even more than victory: a holy war against Barack Obama to articulate their visceral hatred of the incumbent, with which they hope to infect persuadable voters. Mitt’s well on his way to passing that most crucial test.

Well….maybe. There’s no question that if/when Romney wins the nomination, everything will soon be forgiven and the base will rally around him as their sole salvation from another four years of Obama. The same thing is happening on the left, as Obama talks tougher and tosses out base catnip like phone calls to Sandra Fluke in order to win back the affection of his erstwhile admirers from 2008. Still, I suspect that Romney really does have a long-term problem here. Sound and fury aside, I think the lefty base is actually more willing to accept compromise in their leaders than the right-wing base is. These folks really do want a true believer, and if you aren’t one it demonstrates a serious moral deficiency, not just an unfortunate weakness. Weakness can be accepted if push comes to shove; moral failure can’t be.

So it’s a problem for Mitt. Maybe it’s a small one: only two or three percent of the Republican base. But in a close race, that could be a lot.

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