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Why Our Brains Simply Can't Handle Caring About the Republican Primary Any More

The hullabaloo surrounding Super Tuesday has now passed and... nothing's really changed in the Republican primary. Barbara Bush says this is “the worst campaign I've ever seen in my life.” That is quite a statement, considering she watched Lee Atwater...

by Michael Arria
Mar 7 2012, 6:20pm

The hullabaloo surrounding Super Tuesday has now passed and, well, nothing’s really changed in the Republican primary. Barbara Bush says this is "the worst campaign I’ve ever seen in my life." That is quite a statement, considering she watched Lee Atwater get her husband elected by running him on the mythical threat of flag burning and convincing the population that African-American rapists were terrorizing the country, all on furloughs from prison, but that just highlights how poorly the primary has played out.

It’s absurd that at this point Romney is still the unanimous front-runner for the GOP nomination without anyone liking or even caring about him. In many ways, the Republicans' 2012 is shaping up to look a lot like the Democrats' 2004: they dislike the President and want him out of office, however, they have been presented with a seemingly robotic politician from Massachusetts with no principles, having flip-flopped repeatedly on nearly every issue anyone cares about.

When it comes to party hard-liners, Romney's trouble isn't his astronomical wealth, but his inability to flip the dynamic. Unlike Bush, he doesn't seem at ease clearing brush or shooting animals, nor does he remind you of your charming ex-drunk uncle. They said voters wanted to have a burger with Bush, even if they didn't agree with him on everything, but who do you know who like to eat a burger with Mitt Romney, a guy whose attempts at relating to common folk is telling them trees in Michigan are just the right size?

Insight on Romney's failure in this area can, perhaps, be gleaned from a handful of recent studies concerning the connections between compassion and class, which draw on connections to a post-trauma disorder called compassion fatigue, which basically suggests that there’s a point where humans just can’t care about others any more. Writing about the findings in the New York Times, Thomas B. Edsall says that Republicans have capitalized on this fatigue, following years of stress for most Americans about finances and the economy, by hyping up slashing aid money. He writes:

"Who fits the stereotype of the rich and powerful described in this research? Mitt Romney. Empathy: 'I'm not concerned about the very poor.' Compassion: 'I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.' Sympathy for the disadvantaged: My wife /drives a couple of Cadillacs.' Willingness to lie in negotiations: 'I was a severely conservative Republican governor.'"

Edsall then flips the question, "While Romney and many of his fellow Republicans in the House and Senate go over the line on callousness, what about the other side of the aisle? Are Democrats too compassionate?" He goes on to cite a poll that finds 48% of Americans identify Democrats as "weak."

The definitive difference is the reaction from the respective bases. In 2000, the Green Party ran Ralph Nader and snagged a paltry 2% of the vote in an election where the Democratic candidate couldn't even win his home state. Liberals wasted gallons of ink denouncing consumer advocate Nader in convulsed prose, all the while failing to assess the inadequacies of Al Gore. By the same token, liberals enthusiastically coughed up dough, time, and energy for the cause of getting John Kerry elected, a man who voted for the Patriot Act.

On the other hand, conservatives aren't as willing to hold their nose, having periodically thrown their support behind each new flavor of the week until, inexplicably, doubling down on Rick Santorum, a man with a repulsive view of the world and no chance of beating Obama. Once the population realized Santorum was one of the most deranged people to ever run for his office, he became the poster boy for the domestic War on Women. The flames of the backlash against his distorted values were flamed by the Komen Foundation's cowardly separation from Planned Parenthood and Rush Limbaugh tagging Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student whose testimony was denied during a congressional hearing on religious liberty and contraceptive, as a "slut" who wants the government to pay her to have sex. Holding candidates to lofty standards of idealogical purity is nothing new for Republicans. In 1992, Ross Perot ran as an Independent, cleaving a sizable portion of his votes from right-wingers of the Pat Buchanan variety. He ended up receiving almost 19% of the vote. People often forget how close that election was: Clinton won with 43% and Bush lost, garnishing 37.5%. Rather than lament the loss, the right organized and, in 1994, gained control of the Senate for the first time in forty years. The victory led to what the Christopher Hitchens once referred to as a "Clinton/Gingrich co-presidency" and a right-wing legislative onslaught.

Romney isn’t having trouble just because he will have to run against a variation of his own healthcare plan (although, unlike "Obamacare", Massachusetts' plan covered abortions) but because it will be nearly impossible to launch any captivating right-wing policy argument against a President responsible for the death of Osama bin Laden and a continuation of perpetual war in the Middle East.

Edsall is speaking about perception, no doubt, because the real world leads us to alternative conclusions. This week Attorney General Eric Holder showed up at Northwestern University to give a speech justifying the killing of American citizen Anwar Awlaki, who was assassinated in Yemen on the basis of information that was never brought to a court or made public. The Obama administration, which also killed Awlaki's teenage son in a drone attack, identified transparency as a cornerstone of their cabinet and, apparently, this is it: addressing a room full of future lawyers, five months after potentially violating the Bill of Rights and the international laws of war, and telling them, "'Due process’ and ‘judicial process’ are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security."

Holder's creative remix of The Constitution occurred a day after his boss addressed the AIPAC conference, declaring that no option will be taken off the table in regard to Iran, bragging about the crippling effect of sanctions, and failing to emit anything resembling a criticism of Israel's abuses against Palestinians. Romney, somehow, interpreted the President's display as a "lecture", insisted the sanctions weren't nearly vicious enough, and insisted Obama has "warmed to the Palestinian cause."

Again, Romney will have trouble hitting the President on this stuff because it's so off the charts, and his base will cringe when he goes through embarrassing process of trying to make it stick, despite their calls for it now. ‘We tried,’ they will tell themselves, ‘but we always knew he wouldn't work.’ Meanwhile, the constant bickering over who’s Republican and who’s not has simply worn out a lot of voters who, at this point, could care less about the squabbling among nominees.

Tuesday night’s results enforced these sentiments. Romney cleaned up within the only demographic who trusts him: rich, white people. Many working-class Republicans, the people who has sustained the successes of the GOP through the years, insist on holding out until the bitter end. It’s not going to get any smoother for the likely nominee, with votes in Mississippi and Alabama coming up. Maybe Barbara Bush is on to something after all.