Monday, May 23, 2011

The Threat of Mittens and White Resentment

I have thought all along that Mitt Romney was dead in the water as the Republican nominee in 2012. His health care bill, his utter vacuity, and his flip-flopping should make him anathema to Republican primary voters. I still more or less believe this. But someone has to win, don't they? I simply cannot believe it will be Gingrich. Jon Huntsman has no chance because he is not insane and hasn't learned to pander well enough. All signs point to Pawlenty.

However, if Romney somehow manages to pull this out, I do believe he will be a formidable opponent for Obama, presuming there's no serious third party challenge by Ron Paul or some other teabagger that might draw 5% of the vote. Robert Reich suggests one reason why--Romney seems presidential. He has a moderate history, he has good hair, and importantly, according to Reich, he's white:

But I suspect something else is at work here, too. To many voters, President Obama sounds and acts presidential, but he doesn't look it. Mitt Romney is the perfect candidate for people uncomfortable that their president is black. Mitt is their great white hope.

I don't know how persuaded I am by this given that Obama managed to sway a lot of white voters in 2008. But if enough of those voters in key states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, states where Obama has struggled and states with older, white working-class populations, identify with Romney based on race, this could be quite consequential. After all, in the American electoral system, it only takes a relatively small number of voters in the right states to decide an election. And would it really surprise anyone if whiteness was the issue that swayed 2012? Not me anyway.

This also reminds me of the recent findings that a whole lot of whites believe that anti-white bias is a bigger problem in America than anti-black bias. This is, of course, absurd. It's not that hard out there for a cracker after all. But for a struggling white working-class, linking economic problems with white ideology is hardly unusual in American history. This helped seal white supremacy in the late 19th century South, despite some attempts for cross-racial solidarity. It helps us understand the appeal of George Wallace in the North in 1968 and the Reagan Democrats in the 1980s. White Americans have often blamed non-whites or immigrants for their economic problems, opening space for racist politicians to take advantage. And while I'm not going to call Romney racist, I am happy to call the Republican Party racist. Republicans are salivating over playing the race card as strongly as they can in 2012; it may  not be 1952 anymore, but between veiled racism toward blacks and open racism toward immigrants, Republicans have gone all-in as the White Man's Party. Long-term, this is a disastrous strategy. Short-term, there are enough older whites in key Midwestern states that this strategy could work wonders.