For most of the press corps, this has been the buzz about the inevitability of Mitt Romney. Despite desultory poll numbers and the resistance of conservatives, Romney is the one, according to the punditry. One reason behind such prognostication is that Romney is so bland he will be as Robert Dole was in 1996, the only acceptable nominee. When in doubt run a hack, and usually that is the case with Republicans. In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.
Certainly Romney got a boost in the November elections. In Ohio, John Kusich's radical attempt to break unions was rejected by 61 percent. Mississippi saw a restriction on Roe versus Wade beaten back with 55 percent voting no. Tea party members and the remnant of the once formidable Christian Right took a pounding. In Virginia, an understated Republican campaign, however, won the state senate. And of course Rick Perry's celebrated "brain freeze" gave Romney a lift.
But with whom? Political writers too fascinated with the process, ever on the watch for a "game change" have forgotten about the party they pretend to cover. Republicans despite the last 30 years are not pleased with what they see. In their universe, they have elected presidents and the country has changed despite their victories. From everything from gay rights to immigration, conservatives particularly regard themselves as imperilled. The new America as embodied by Barack Obama seems on the verge of overwhelming them. Romney to these voters represents a capitulation to these changes.
Not that Romney hasn't tried to reassure them - he most certainly has. His moderation seems only moderate in front of a GOP audience. On the economy, he is right-wing old-style. To a Democrat, he prefers to be only marginally less harsh than a tea partyer. It seems only a sylistic difference between using a bull whip on the American worker as opposed to a cat o' nine tails. It is reminiscent of the old "I'm moderately in favor of segregation" that marked Southern progressives before the voting rights act. As Richardson Preyer put it, his opponents would vote "he did not look like he was enjoying it" if he personally flogged a Civil Rights worker.
For conservatives, their remarkable discipline, sticking by the party nominee, is tiresome. Moreover, they do not accept the analysis of what Sarah Palin calls "the lame-street media." Herman Cain is a victim of a smear campaign, Rick Perry is unfairly critiqued and by the usual suspects in the press. Meanwhile, that group of political nabobs known as "moderate" Republicans applauded the destruction of the conservative wing. Certainly the latest survey does not point to any real surge in Romney's support. Only those who are unsympathetic to the right are egging on the view that Mitt is the anointed one.
In 1972, Ed Muskie received the same type of coverage as Romney. Forget George McGovern, George Wallace or even Hubert Humphrey, none were possible nominees. Then came the primaries and the aura around Muskie began to fade. McGovern and Wallace were surprises to the press, only the voters saw them as plausible. Newt Gingrich, who is surging, is simply written off because most in the press would not vote for him. But a Republican voter just might, and that after all is what really counts.
Romney may be making a tactical mistake by buying into all this touting of his candidacy by the Fourth Estate. George Wallace in 1976 finally received his due from the press and foolishly acted on it. Like Romney, he gambled, as the former Massachusetts governor is doing in Iowa, by attempting to win the bay state. When Wallace fell short in Massachusetts, it set him up for defeat in Florida. The year 1976 was not 1972, but the pack journalists failed to see the difference.
Far from being finished, the Republican race is still fluid. Voters are less inclined to support a candidate because their alleged ability to "win" them what they believe. GOP primary participants having been burned by McCain and George W. Bush are seeking in Phyllis Schlatly's words "a choice, not an echo." But to a press that undervalued the tea party, Occupy Wall Street and almost every conservative alternative, the prime consideration is a "winner." Perhaps they will lay a journalistic egg again.