Commentary Magazine


Topic: Macomb County

Michigan’s Reagan Democrats May Spoil Romney’s Homecoming

Mitt Romney has been running for the Republican presidential nomination for more than five years. But after all the millions of dollars he has spent on attaining this goal and the endless trips and speeches he has made and all the debates in which he has participated, it may just come down to what happens today in Michigan. A loss in the Michigan primary isn’t necessarily fatal to his hopes. He is expected to win easily in Arizona today and given the fact that many in the party would regard Rick Santorum’s nomination as an unmitigated disaster, it should be expected that even after a defeat in his home state, Romney could eventually prevail in a long race. But a loss in Michigan would puncture, perhaps fatally, the notion of Romney’s inevitability. And it could also set in a motion a series of events, heretofore considered highly unlikely, that could lead to a deadlocked convention and the emergence of an alternative Republican candidate. All of which is to say if Romney intends to take the presidential oath in Washington next January, he had better pull out a win today.

Yet with the polls tightening in the last days before the Michigan primary, a Romney victory is very much in doubt. As Alana noted, Romney is complaining about Santorum’s effort to get Democrats to vote for him, something he considers a dirty trick. But while he might consider the robocalls underhanded, the attempt to get registered Democrats to cross over and vote for Santorum is a reflection of Romney’s weakness, not a dirty trick. Though the former Pennsylvania senator may be unelectable in November, he is well placed to appeal to one element of the old Ronald Reagan coalition: the working class Democrats who voted their values and backed the GOP in 1980 and were immortalized in Stanley Greenberg’s study that centered on Macomb County, Michigan.

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Mitt Romney has been running for the Republican presidential nomination for more than five years. But after all the millions of dollars he has spent on attaining this goal and the endless trips and speeches he has made and all the debates in which he has participated, it may just come down to what happens today in Michigan. A loss in the Michigan primary isn’t necessarily fatal to his hopes. He is expected to win easily in Arizona today and given the fact that many in the party would regard Rick Santorum’s nomination as an unmitigated disaster, it should be expected that even after a defeat in his home state, Romney could eventually prevail in a long race. But a loss in Michigan would puncture, perhaps fatally, the notion of Romney’s inevitability. And it could also set in a motion a series of events, heretofore considered highly unlikely, that could lead to a deadlocked convention and the emergence of an alternative Republican candidate. All of which is to say if Romney intends to take the presidential oath in Washington next January, he had better pull out a win today.

Yet with the polls tightening in the last days before the Michigan primary, a Romney victory is very much in doubt. As Alana noted, Romney is complaining about Santorum’s effort to get Democrats to vote for him, something he considers a dirty trick. But while he might consider the robocalls underhanded, the attempt to get registered Democrats to cross over and vote for Santorum is a reflection of Romney’s weakness, not a dirty trick. Though the former Pennsylvania senator may be unelectable in November, he is well placed to appeal to one element of the old Ronald Reagan coalition: the working class Democrats who voted their values and backed the GOP in 1980 and were immortalized in Stanley Greenberg’s study that centered on Macomb County, Michigan.

Santorum’s appeal to working class sentiments and the lost era of labor intensive American manufacturing has been overshadowed by his recent absurd comments about John F. Kennedy and the separation of church and state as well as his gaffe about President Obama’s snobbery in wanting everyone to go to college. But Santorum’s pitch to this group to back him on the basis of his conservative positions on social issues and economics poses a genuine threat to the assumption that Romney can win Michigan. It also plays into Romney’s greatest weakness: the perception that he is an inauthentic elitist whose pretensions to conservatism are phony.

It is, of course, somewhat ironic that Santorum should have blasted JFK while seeking to appeal to Reagan Democrats because, as Greenberg noted, the interesting statistic about Macomb County was that it went 63 percent for John Kennedy in 1960 but also gave 66 percent of its votes to Ronald Reagan because it perceived the Democratic Party as having abandoned the interests and values of white working class voters.

The question for Romney is whether he can mobilize enough mainstream Republicans to overwhelm Santorum’s advantage with Christian conservatives and those crossover Democrats to squeeze out a victory today. If he doesn’t, the Republican contest is about to get a lot more interesting.

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