Imagine if John McCain had narrowly lost to Mitt Romney in New Hampshire last night, and, when you down broke down the results, it was clear that the voters most concerned about the war in Iraq and terrorism went heavily for Romney—plus thought he would make a better commander in chief. That would kind of kill McCain's whole rationale for running, don'tcha think?
Well, that is pretty much what did happen, except in reverse. Voters who were most concerned about the economy went strongly—41 to 21 percent—for McCain over Romney, the multimillionaire venture capitalist. The Wall Street legend. The guy with the M.B.A. The guy who turned around the Salt Lake City Olympics. The guy who says, "I know how the economy works." Even worse, Romney lost to a fellow who has admitted in the past that economic policy is not his strong suit and that he might need more of an expert as his veep if nominated.
See, the problem with Romney isn't necessarily that voters don't like his ideas—such as cutting corporate taxes or eliminating investment taxes for middle-class voters. It's that voters don't think he understands their problems. Until that hurdle is overcome, ideas don't matter. You have to do politics before you can do policy.
And it's not merely because he is superrich, I don't think. McCain is rich, too, and unlike Romney, who built his fortune, McCain remarried into his. Nope, the problem, as I have pointed out before, is that in the eyes of voters, Romney doesn't seem to appreciate how worried people are about plunging housing prices, soaring gas prices, and rising unemployment. (In a way, the cerebral Barack Obama has a similar problem. All that talk about "hope" can seem a little removed from kitchen-table issues. And, indeed, he lost lower-class voters to Hillary Clinton.)
Again, I refer to the answer Romney gave me a few weeks back when I asked him about worker worry:
Well, clearly the subprime mortgage crisis and its spread to the overall credit market has spooked the stock market and is being widely reported, and some people have concerns. And there's no question that the media shapes a good deal of public perception, and there is nothing that sells like fright. Clearly, those things affect the national mood. I don't think we have to go into a recession. I think we can see a return of growth. I do recognize that families also are concerned that the value in their homes may not be what they thought it was, and that is another factor in the assessment of a person's wealth and well-being.... I also think what's important is that people see rising prospects for their own future. I hope that we as a people are most concerned about whether we are doing better than whether someone else is doing better than us.
Not exactly, "I feel your pain." We'll see how GOP rhetoric changes now that the primary season moves to Michigan and South Carolina, states with the worst and fourth-worst jobless rates in the country.
Here is a helpful hint. (If Mike Huckabee is reading this, he can probably skip to the next post.) Go to Wikipedia, and check out Pat Buchanan's notorious "culture war" speech from the 1992 Republican National Convention. Toward the end, Pitchfork Pat moves from social issues to economic issues. After recounting conversations with economically distressed voters on the campaign trail, working-class folks, Buchanan told the crowd in Houston, "My friends, even in tough times, these people are with us. They don't read Adam Smith or Edmund Burke, but they came from the same schoolyards and playgrounds and towns as we did.... They are the conservatives of the heart.... And we need to reconnect with them. We need to let them know we know they're hurting. They don't expect miracles, but they need to know we care."
It may be Romney, not Obama, who really needs a visit from Oprah and a lesson on how to connect with people and their real-life concerns. Or maybe hire Buchanan as a speechwriter.