The gift that just keeps giving

February 28, 2012

Democrats can barely contain their glee: there’s a very real chance that Mitt ‘My Wife Has Two Cadillacs‘ Romney will lose the backing of his home state Michigan today. Latest numbers from to-be-trusted Public Policy Polling show it’s too tight to call, but certainly loseable for Mitt. Back yard defeat looms!

In fact Democrats don’t have to contain anything. The Michigan primary isn’t restricted to registered Republicans, so Dems can get out there and vote for Mitt’s most serious contender yet – nonRom of the moment Rick Santorum – thus doing their bit to rent this Republican race wide, wide open and making it seriously difficult for the man most likely to beat Obama to gain the GOP nod.

And as the PPP results suggest, that’s exactly what many Michigan Democrats are planning to do: they’re lining up 47-10 for Rick. The final result will come down to whether Santorum can win by a big enough margin amongst election day voters to counteract Romney’s lead amongst the fifth of the electorate who’ve already voted, and voted 56-29 in his favour.

(Those who’ve seen it will recognise the inverse parallel with George Clooney thriller The Ides Of March, in which the frontrunner in a Democratic primary is threatened by Republican tactical voting. Those who haven’t seen it really shouldn’t bother: it’s a very, very dull film.)

The Michigan contest is fascinating both superficially – tight races are always fun – and substantively, because it’s a symptom of a much deeper shift within the Grand Old Party. The latter point is made eloquently by Christopher Caldwell, senior editor at conservative US magazine The Weekly Standard, in a piece for the FT published last Saturday (behind a paywall).

In it Caldwell argues that there’s zero chance that the populist wing of the GOP will ever reconcile itself to the ‘plutocratic’ wing represented by Romney: the populists see Mitt and his campaign as a fraud and a sham. The argument goes – and I’d love to know if there were data to back this up – that the Republican Party is undergoing a major transformation:

Republicans are in transition between being one kind of party and another. Yesterday’s Republicans were an upper-middle-class party (small-town lawyers, shop-owners, managers) and tomorrow’s are a lower-middle-class one (landscape gardeners, construction workers, truckers).

Santorum, naturally, is the champion of the working class, whereas Romney is – in the words of former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee – ‘the guy who fires you’. The Party is torn between a ‘Rotary Club wing’ and a ‘Burger King wing’. Republicans will lose as a result, thinks Caldwell, and the moderate RINOs will switch to the Democratic Party in 2016 and beyond. Now let’s not get ahead of ourselves here… but isn’t this fun?!

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