Why Romney Would Want a Negative Reaction from the NAACP

You probably know the basic details. Yesterday Mitt Romney went to the national convention of the NAACP in Houston and managed to get booed while giving a speech that Michael Tomasky said…well, here’s what Tomasky wrote about it:

Until yesterday, I thought of Mitt Romney as a spineless, disingenuous, and supercilious but more or less decently intentioned person who at least wasn’t the race-mongering pyromaniac that some other Republican candidates of my lifetime have been. Then he gave his speech to the NAACP, and now I think of him as a spineless, disingenuous, supercilious, race-mongering pyromaniac who is very poorly intentioned indeed…

The line that caused the biggest reaction was Romney’s pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which before this almost entirely African American audience he derisively called “Obamacare.”

Why did he speak before the NAACP? A widely held view among liberals is that Romney intended to provoke a negative response. Tomasky again:

We learned a great deal about Mitt Romney yesterday, and what we learned only adds to the picture of this little, plastic fellow who thinks he can get points from white moderates (as explained by an aide to BuzzFeed) by appearing at the NAACP while generating high-fives on the white right for rubbing dirt in the faces of its members while there. Did I earlier give him a point for going there at all? I hereby withdraw it. He went only to send “signals” to other constituencies entirely. I hope those swing voters he was partly aiming for become aware of just how badly he swung and missed on this one.

Romney wasn’t done rubbing dirt in the faces of the NAACP members, although his next insult was delivered a safe distance away, last night at a fundraising event in Montana, where he said this to his donors about the delegates at the NAACP:

“Remind them of this: if they want more stuff from government, tell them to go vote for the other guy — more free stuff. But don’t forget, nothing is really free.”

Like many, I assumed Romney was attending the NAACP convention not as a way to appeal to black voters–he’ll be lucky to get more than the 4% of the black vote that went to John McCain in 2008. Instead, I thought it was the typical play by Republicans to appear tolerant on race so as to assuage the worries of non-racist swing voters that the GOP is not racist, so therefore voting for Republicans does not implicate that person in empowering racists.

But after seeing what he did yesterday, I’ve changed my mind, and I agree with those who say Romney actually wanted the African-Americans at the NAACP to boo him. And here, from a Washington Post ABC News poll released on Monday, is why I shouldn’t have been surprised:

For a Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney is not a particularly likable guy. He’s stiff and awkward, somewhat like Al Gore, but he exudes none of Gore’s earnestness or his desire to connect with common folk. Romney’s repeated blunders that remind us of his tremendous wealth suggest he has little engagement with the world beyond the insular circles of the ultra-wealthy. And on the stump and with people of backgrounds different from his own, he can be painfully tone deaf.

So what is Romney’s path to victory? Short of an economic collapse between now and November, or maybe some unprecedented national catastrophe, he’s got only one move: to make people so distrust, despise and feel disgust for Barack Obama that they grudgingly give their vote to a guy they also distrust and dislike.

That strategy depends on several factors: suppressing the Obama vote, either by demoralizing marginal Obama voters or preventing them from voting by means of voter ID requirements that will disproportionately effect minorities, young voters and the poor (all part of a winning Obama coalition). It requires convincing swing voters to turn against Obama. And it requires Romney to keep his base, which isn’t supporting him as much as opposing Obama, frothing in a frenzied mania to knock Obama out of the White House.

Romney can’t get to the White House by inspiring voters to embrace his candidacy. So from now until November, we’ll probably see plenty of what we saw yesterday: cynical, nasty and dark-hearted provocations to feed some of the worst impulses in those voters who don’t care for Romney but need to be repeatedly reminded that they despise Barack Obama and the people who are his most fervent supporters.

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