The Romney strategy

Earlier today, I posted two long comments at Secular RightOne was about philosopher Alvin Plantinga.   That one I’ll just leave there, as I doubt that anyone who reads this blog would be much interested in it.

The other was about US presidential candidate Willard M. “Mitt” Romney.  I’ll copy it below.  Mr Romney recently made news by saying this:

So, in what are obviously prepared remarks Mr Romney is declaring that “47, 48, 49%” of US voters will never support him under any conditions.  That wouldn’t seem to be a statement that a candidate who expects to win an election would make.  It has been widely reported as a gaffe, and on Secular Right blogger “David Hume” (alias Razib Khan) joins those who say that Mr Romney faces “a longer shot than he had one week ago.”

I’m not so sure.  I explained there (links added):

When you say that Mr Romney’s chances of winning the election are less than they were a week ago, I assume you’re thinking of his remarks about the “47, 48, 49%” of voters who will never support him because their household incomes are too low. If that is an incorrect assumption, please let me know.

I don’t know whether those remarks will hurt him in the end. What does seem clear is that they are part of a deliberate strategy on Mr Romney’s part. A few days before the release of this video, he had said that an annual household income of $100,000 was insufficient to qualify for the middle class, that it took at least $250,000 to be a middle-income family. And there have been so many other remarks of the same kind, from “Corporations are people, my friend” to his challenge to Rick Perry to a $10,000 wager, to “Some of my best friends are NASCAR team owners,” that it is clearly a strong pattern. Mr Romney is an extremely intelligent man, and is continually receiving high-quality market research about the voting public’s response to his statements. Therefore, it is unlikely that he would exhibit such a strong pattern unless he believed that it would help him achieve some goal.

What is that goal? I’d say the answer is in the “47, 48, 49%” formulation. The last survey I saw that asked Americans to rank themselves by the level of household income showed that something like 17% of them thought that they were in the top 1%. That survey is pretty old now, but I suspect that far fewer than 49% of Americans think of themselves as part of the poorest 49%. Those who do know that they are in the bottom half of the income distribution are certainly no less likely to vote for Mr Romney now than they were before these remarks were released; if anything, those voters with sub-median incomes who would consider voting Republican are likely to cheer when they hear a politician casting aspersions on those of their neighbors and coworkers who express concern about the future of public assistance programs.

In other words, I think that Mr Romney is trying to position his candidacy as a luxury brand. He knows that people like to feel rich, and that they sometimes choose luxury products or services because the act of buying them will give them that feeling. He is in fact betting his entire candidacy on this sort of luxury appeal.

Will this wager pay off? It seems very unlikely now. Mr Romney started running for president shortly after he was elected governor of Massachusetts, in George W. Bush’s first term. At that time, he evidently hoped that, in 2008, he would be the Republican Party’s nominee for president, that because of the Bush-Cheney record the Republican Party would be very popular, and that the economy would be booming. Under those conditions, a strategy like Mr Romney’s might very well have won a presidential election.

As it happened, Mr Romney was not nominated until 2012, the Bush-Cheney record made and continues to make the Republican Party unpopular, and the economy has not been truly strong for a good many years. So it would be surprise if his strategy were to succeed. What is not surprising is that he continues to pursue it. On the one hand, Mr Romney’s own personal history is such that he could prove his independence from the plutocracy only by advocating a genuinely populist economic policy. That, obviously, is something which he has absolutely no desire to do. On the other hand, the Republican Party in general has been moving towards a more frankly pro-rich posture in recent years. Look at all the talk from leading Republicans about “broadening the base” of the tax system, that is to say, raising taxes on the non-rich. If that is the direction they are going, the only asset the Republicans are going to have in future elections is their luxury appeal. So, slim as Mr Romney’s chances may be, his decision to base his campaign on the fact that he and his social circle are all very, very rich is in fact a rational one.

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