Alex Massie

Mitt Romney & the GOP’s Nationalist Rump

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The great thing about Mitt Romney is that he's so darn subtle. Hence the title for his new campaign* book: No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. Gee, I wonder what that means?

Romney must be considered the front-runner for the 2012 Republican nomination if only because other would-be candidates have either ruled themselves out (Huntsman), shot themselves in the foot (Palin,

Stanford

Sanford. [Thanks commenters]) or remain incapable of setting the heather alight even when armed with a can of gasoline (Pawlenty). And since front-runners have won every Republican nomination since 1988 (McCain was unusual in as much as he was a front-runner who slipped and was nearly lapped before staging a comeback which relied heavily upon everyone else demonstrating their inadequacy before the Senator from Arizona could remind voters for a second time of his own short-comings), one would do well to pay attention to what Romney is up to.

If this new book is anything to go by, it seems that Romney remains determined to pander to the Republican party's base. In some senses that makes sense. Their votes count too. But the trouble is that he's tried this before. Perhaps practice makes perfect and Romney has been reprogrammed to be more convincing when he panders. Maybe. He could scarcely do worse than last time, even if I remain unconvinced Romney has mastered that whole Being a Human Being** thing that's generally considered quite useful.

Theoretically the times should suit a technocrat such as Romney. Healthcare and budgets are things he understands. He is a fixer and a solver of problems. This ought to give Romney a significant advantage in the race for 2012. 

Which makes it interesting that tedious stuff to do with policy and the things that actually have an impact on "ordinary" people's lives is precisely what Romney is not "writing" about in this book. The left realised some time ago that red meat for the base and the kind of emotional rhetoric that sends the true believers home happy is not enough to win national elections. The American right persists in believing otherwise.

Then again, the GOP is increasingly a nationalist, not a national party. The title of Romney's book acknowledges this. Who are these people apologising for being American? Well, Barack Obama obviously (if absurdly) and by extension all those who voted for him. Race has something to do with this, but it's importance is not the whole drama. The rise of the people who tell the census that they're American-American pre-dates the Obama era, even if we may expect Obama's presidency to exacerbate the alienation felt by white southern and Appalachian men.

That alienation responds to emotion, not policy. It's nationalism - or, if you prefer, its definition of patriotism - is instinctive, suspicious and belligerent, keenly aware that there are sell-outs and traitors everywhere. This, then, is the crew Romney is pandering to. Maybe he is right to do so, perhaps he needs to do this. Either way, it's a sad commentary on the state of the modern conservative movement.

Just to be clear: the notion that Obama has been scurrying around the globe grovelling and apologising on behalf of the United States is utterly absurd. As candidate Obama said over and over again, he owes everything he has to the United States. It was America, after all, who gave his father the chance to come and study in the US. Without that there is no Barack Hussein Obama, far less a President Obama. 

Nor can it be said that Obama's foreign policy views diverge much from the American mainstream. They are, for the most part and at bottom, pretty conventional. Certainly there are few areas in which Obama's views would have been considered extreme in, say, the time of the George HW Bush administration. Nor, needless to say, has he staffed his administration with radicals.

Still, that's by-the-by. Romney's little book - and it is bound to be terribly small - wrestles with a straw man. Sadly that's only to be expected these days. The GOP has, for the time being at least, decided to double down on nationalism amidst an atmosphere of festering resentment. Denouncing your opponents as un-American isn't serious politics, nor does it seem likely to be sufficiently persuasive in serious times. But at the moment, that's where the GOP is at.

The polls may fluctuate and they may report unhappiness with aspects of Obama's policies (no surprise there) but if you can judge a party by titles of the books it buys then you'd be hard pressed to see how the Party of Angry White Men is going to win back the Presidency on the back of a campaign fuelled by nationalist resentment.

*Technically it's a pre-campaign, quasi-book, but you know what I mean.

**Not only that, he's also a dog-torturer.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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