The rightward trek of Mitt Romney has been the Manifest Destiny of the GOP campaign. The more Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich hoard the evangelical and ultra-conservative vote, the more pundits and politicos say that Romney has no choice but to continue shuffling away from his past policy positions to make himself look more appetizing to “the base.” Last night’s third-place finishes in Alabama and Mississippi did nothing to change the conventional wisdom. Romney will clearly have to pick a vice-presidential nominee who satiates the hard right.
As usual when the national media look south, there’s been endless “how dumb are they?” chatter this week about the yokels—particularly the white, conservative Republican ones—who live in today’s big primary states, Alabama and Mississippi.
“Things, strange things, are happening to me,” Mitt Romney told folks in Pascagoula, Mississippi, on Thursday evening. Hanging out with his personal aide, Mississippi native Garrett Jackson, as he stumps through the Deep South is “turning me into, I don’t know, an unofficial Southerner,” he said. This morning, to underscore this unlikely transformation, Romney began a town-hall meeting at the Mississippi Farmer’s Market with a chirpy “Mornin’ y’all,” and then proclaimed, “I got started right this morning with a biscuit and some cheesy grits. I’ll tell you! Delicious.” Soon, as he discoursed on the administrative costs of health care, Romney was joining in another local pastime: squashing a cockroach. “Oh look at that, look at that little guy,” he said, providing a play-by-play. “There. Got him.” The Mississippians seemed a bit unsure about how to react to all this. But they could be no more befuddled than the national political pundits, who’ve assumed that Romney couldn’t possibly win Alabama and Mississippi next Tuesday—though the polls now indicate that he very well might. Rasmussen shows Romneyleading Mississippi by eight points over Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, while the three are locked in a dead heat next door in Alabama. With Santorum and Gingrich furiously trying to elbow each other out of the race, and with the Restore our Future super PAC pouring nearly $1 million into the two states, Romney could conceivably hee-haw his way to victories that nobody saw coming.
Mitt Romney and the South go together like grits and quiche—which is a fancy way of saying they don’t. As Slate’s David Weigel reported yesterday, in the three Southern primaries so far (no, Florida doesn’t count), the GOP frontrunner has carried nine of 300 counties.
How did Mitt Romney scratch out a Super Tuesday win in Ohio, the state where Rick Santorum led by double digits just a few eye blinks ago and had the blue-collar evangelical message and cultural bona fides on his side? It was the usual formula: Mucho super PAC money, plus enthusiastic support from the only two sets of voters who’ve thus far shown a fondness for the former Massachusetts governor. These would be the elderly and the rich.