Romney Could Use a Sister Souljah Moment
After embracing stridently partisan positions during the primaries, campaigns traditionally etch-a-sketch to the center after securing the nomination. But while Romney adopted his fair share of conservative positions to squeeze past Santorum, he has yet to move back to the center: He hasn’t discovered any new centrist positions, he hasn’t attempted to co-opt any Democratic strengths, he hasn’t established an independent-minded theme, and he hasn’t found a Sister Souljah moment. He could use one.
Most presidential candidates adopt an image that distinguishes them from the most partisan wing of their party, whether it was Bush running as a “compassionate conservative,” Clinton’s “New Democrat,” Obama’s post-partisan appeals to change, or McCain’s “maverick.” And realistically, Romney needs it as much or more than any of those prior candidates. The Republican Party is decidedly unpopular—more unpopular than the parties were in any of those prior presidential elections (with the exception of McCain in 2008). Yet here’s Romney, a candidate who entered presidential politics positioned to run as a moderate, running as a generic conservative Republican candidate with a splash of Bain Capital.
It’s important to remember that Romney needs moderate, independent, and even traditionally Democratic-leaning voters to win this election. It’s not 2004 anymore: The influx of non-white voters into the electorate over the last eight years, as well as their movement toward the Democratic party, has raised the bar for what Romney needs among white voters. Romney will probably need to carry at least 60 percent of white voters to secure the presidency, more than any GOP candidate since Reagan. Now, deep dissatisfaction with Obama’s performance and the state of the country has given Romney a real opportunity to pull that off, but that essentially requires Romney to sweep persuadable swing white voters—and we can infer that many have traditionally voted for Democratic candidates in national elections.