Why Romney Wins Primaries But No Victories

by Matthew Raley

With Mitt Romney’s wins in Michigan and Arizona last night, the race for the GOP nomination may become more stable. But the diminishing political options for Romney’s competitors will not change the attitudes of GOP voters. The candidates reflect America’s deepening division without giving the leadership Americans need to reunite. Republicans will continue to grumble.

Great political leaders make coalitions that give different interests a place to combine. Ronald Reagan, for instance, is best understood as a coalition builder. He knew that strong unity begins with a dense message, one that integrates many points of view. The secret to his political power was the diversity of people and philosophies behind him. (The left has never understood this, preferring to call Reagan an illusionist.)

The two most significant GOP candidates at this writing, Romney and Rick Santorum, are not going to be great leaders.

Here are some of the cultural changes the GOP candidates reflect.

1. Economic divide.

Santorum and Romney reflect this divide perfectly. Santorum comes from a blue collar district in Pennsylvania, the real rust-belt deal. He articulates the priorities of blue collar people who have seen their way of life fall to pieces. Romney lives in the managerial world of law and finance, and articulates the problem-solving ethos of that world.

Both men talk about freedom. But the blocks of culture they represent need to hear how their specific interests in freedom combine. The question of the hour is, “Where do interests converge?”

2. Educational divide

One chunk of the nation has a college or graduate education. That block has mobility, options, and wealth. The people in it have seen their choices narrow in the last four years because of the bad economy. But they still have options to improve their lives.

The other chunk of the nation has a high school education and, maybe, work experience. This block has little social mobility, few to no options for improving their lives, and little wealth. Men in this group, particularly, do not see how they can make their way back into the economy with anything like the vitality their fathers enjoyed.

This educational divide has hardened into worldview divide. Many in the educated block view their education as a spiritual mission, a means to moral and personal transformation. Most in the uneducated block see the educational establishment as a fraud. Harvard, Madoff — what’s the difference? And this suspicion is all too well-founded (here and here). It is not just anti-intellectual bigotry, as the educated classes love to suppose.

Santorum spoke directly to this split, taking one side of it in unambiguous terms. Obama is a “snob” for talking up college. Santorum’s approach is not going to benefit him. It will be seen as unpresidential even by those who might eat it up on a talk show. But, even though candidates do not gain the nomination with boorish jabs, there remains a deep and justified hostility to the socially approved waste of resources by colleges and universities.

Romney, for his part, is a numbers guy, planted complacently on the other side of the divide.

So the question remains: how can the interests of both combine?

3. Family divide.

Charles Murray has delivered another of his virtuoso performances in social science, speaking of numbers. In Coming Apart, he shows the predominance of traditional marriage among those who are educated with a secular worldview, and the predominance of broken families among the less educated. Michael Barone analyzes the Romney-Santorum battle in light of Murray’s findings.

Santorum, in his populist flush, seems unaware that the working class no longer lives a traditional family life. Indeed, the most significant reason why the working class has fewer economic and social options is not the disappearance of manufacturing jobs, but the loss of resilience that comes from a committed marriage.

Romney has nothing to say about this. He has the gut of a financier, which, valuable though it may be, seems to leave him incapable of speaking effectively to these problems.

What will the new coalition for the traditional family look like? Actually, it won’t be political at all.

The reason the GOP hasn’t settled on a front runner is that no candidate is building a coalition.

If Santorum had wanted to be credible, he would have come out of the gate with a coalition message, and he would have made his strategy and tactics in the primaries cohere with that message. As it is, he is merely rallying a constituency, and is blowing an opportunity that only comes once in a generation.

If Romney had wanted to be credible, he would have launched his campaign with a deeper, more cogent assessment of America’s problems. But he does not appear to have the imagination to do more than deliver slogans. And by now, he has morphed too many times to sharpen his message.

Gingrich and Paul? Paul does not want a coalition. That was never his game. As for Gingrich, I would never count him out. But the coalition he envisions seems to change every time his mic goes live.

In other words, every GOP candidate wants to be Reagan without doing what Reagan did.

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16 thoughts on “Why Romney Wins Primaries But No Victories

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  1. My goodness…your on-going love affair with Reagan shines forth like a new morning son. You are quite taken with this man it seems. His name is repeated like a mantra by those who seek a savior. I wonder if the leadership style of Jesus was consensus building? Nope. I don’t think so.

    Consensus builders tell a lot of jokes (Reagan) and give a lot of hugs (Clinton). Leaders tell a lot of truth, in love.

  2. Balderdash, Susan. Presidents are not and cannot be spiritual leaders. They must work within the politically possible, which Reagan did effectively. Only God does the impossible. As for consensus, I think it is highly important in spiritual life. Another word for it would be community. If any pastor thinks he’s going to stand up, “tell the truth,” and ignore relationships, he’s going to fail.

  3. Matt….I can’t quite position where the ‘presidents are not and cannot be spiritual leaders’ statement fits in the dialogue. I’m just sayin’, if we, as well as our political leaders, modeled our behavior—changed our character—to be more like God’s Son, we would not be idolizing jackass politicians and we would be speaking more truth in love, which would relive you of making statements such as: If any pastor thinks he’s going to stand up, “tell the truth,” and ignore relationships, he’s going to fail. Truth without love is a weapon, and love without truth is a lie.

    I did not intend that you take this personally or that it is about being a pastor.

    It seems that one of the things you ignored in your article is that building consensus in the current political climate is like trying to address people who already drank the koolaid du jour. Really not a good idea to build consensus under the conditions of koolaid trumping the truth…in love.

    SN

  4. I respect Newt despite his obvious shortcomings; he is a intelligent and creative thinker with some really good ideas. Sadly, I think the best the Republican Party will manage will be less than most would like. I do think government only reflects our cultural defects, since that is where our candidates originate. Sigh…

  5. Far too many Christian leaders “speak the truth in love” such that harsh truth seems to obliterate the love, leading to division, factions, and disunity, all contrary to Jesus’ Great Commandment. Love is the lubricant that enables broken people not to keep breaking and bruising each other, and consensus is how the Spirit guides us to the truth. Only arrogant spiritual leaders dominate others with truth. Love is the measure of our orthodoxy according to John 13:34-35.

    Despite his under-spoken faith, Reagan seemed to shine brighter than the far more openly Christian Carter. Personally, I respect and admire Reagan more than any other President in my memory, but I worship none but Christ. It creeps me out to hear reverent, worshipful praise of Obama, not because I oppose him but because he, too, is only a man.

    In a book by R. Emmet Tyrrell, founder of “American Spectator,” he noted that the progress or success of the conservative movement came about because the diverse groups figured out how to work together despite their various agendas. Today, we have lost that. I had not considered that a piece of that success was due to Reagan’s ability to drawn them together.

  6. Susan,

    The topic is coalitions and consensus, which you disparage. Your view that whole segments of America have “drunk the koolaid” is, frankly, what every partisan group says about competing partisan groups. I don’t buy it. Consensus is what builds civil society. The substitution of insults for debate is a sign that our society is overly politicized and that the political sphere needs to be put in its place.

    As to your thoughts on politicians, I don’t see your point. Politicians will never model themselves on Jesus, nor is Christ building his kingdom through the political system. Believers and the communities they form are where the action really is, in terms of personal and cultural transformation. Nothing will relieve us of the responsibility to preserve community in this fallen world. In my worldview, pastors are far more important than presidents.

    Politics is a power game, and will never be anything more.

  7. If one experiences harsh truth obliterating love, truth in love has not been spoken. We may all be surprised at the effect of truth spoken in love on consensus building….and, yes, that is a good thing to have agreement and community. It is the idolization of politicians and their manipulative methods forming faulty foundations of consensus that will eventually destroy community.

  8. Anyone think Evangelical voters would hold Romney to the same politcal standards and expectations if he were an Evangelical or Catholic and not a Mormon. Something tells me they would not.
    To be honest, 4 years ago I could not support him due to his faith. This time I am supporting Romney. In an attempt to justify it I am and using the Sgt. York approach and “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”(Matt 22:21), and will continue to pray for him.

  9. No, it was “After the Hangover: The Conservatives’ Road to Recovery,” which includes a lot of Tyrell’s personal reflection on the history, especially on Bill Buckley whom I always admired. It was interesting reading about things during times when I thought I knew what was going on but obviously wasn’t on the inside.

  10. I think you’re right about the standards, Dan. They tighten or slide depending on the personality. Good to hear from you!

  11. I agree with your words: Politics is a power game, and will never be anything more.

    Thus, I have made the case many times that it is no place for Christ followers, many of whom are so in love with the game and with those that play it.

  12. Matt, In response to your words: The topic is coalitions and consensus, which you disparage. Your view that whole segments of America have “drunk the koolaid” is, frankly, what every partisan group says about competing partisan groups. I don’t buy it.

    Keep in mind I do not disparage consensus building—-just how it is done.

    If there is one concept that I have repeated many times it is that I do not align with any particular political party. Thus, it is a fair statement for me to say that those who ‘go the party line’ no matter which party, have ‘drunk the koolaid.’ Please note that I am not making the koolaid comment about a competing party….I make that comment about all who unthinkingly follow the party line. Icky.

  13. I actually don’t know a single person these days who is unthinkingly follow any party line. I think that’s just something partisans say about the people who disagree with them, as if the disagreements couldn’t possibly be genuine but must be the result of some dishonesty or ignorance on the other side.

    Political coalition building requires leaders to recognize that disagreements are genuine, and that interests must be reconciled. That process does not ever yield purity or unanimity. But is does preserve a peaceful, limited use of state power.

  14. …just as long as there are some with the presence of mind to insist on facts over politics, which is usually those without a partisan, political alignment. Purity and/or unanimity not expected.

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