‘Republican Shuffle’ spells difficulty for general election

Sam Chapman

Assertion: Until there is a drastic change in political discourse, no Republican will win a general election.

In case you’ve been living under a rock (or in case this MTV spinoff of a nomination race makes your stomach turn), the victor of 2012’s primary slough is almost certain to be Mitt Romney. This Romney may be the most bland man in America: a candidate so middle-of-the-road I routinely forget such basic information as his stances on the issues, or what he looks like. I once heard him described as seeming like a man playing the president in a movie.

He’s going to win the nomination, but not the presidency. The reason why is best summed up in this headline from The Onion: “Mitt Romney Haunted by Past of Trying to Help Uninsured Sick People.”

For clarification: Romney’s most prominent political role prior to his candidacy was as the governor of Massachusetts, a state well known as a bastion of Volvo-driving, clove-smoking NPR donors that is nevertheless surprisingly prone to accommodating the GOP. The reason for this is that Massachusetts Republicans tend not to toe the line of their or any other party: see the pleasant surprise of sleeper moderate Scott Brown after 2010’s midterm.

See also Romney himself, who, during his term, was able not only to bring healthcare reform to the uninsured, but to turn Massachusetts’ budget deficit into a surplus through the unheard-of bipartisan method of cutting spending while increasing revenue. In short, Governor Romney was the moderate all moderates aspire to be.

That was the past: before he set eyes on the land’s highest office, before he was forced to dance the “Republican Shuffle.”

The Republican Shuffle refers to exactly what a right-wing candidate must do to win office: two steps to the right, two steps to the left. In response to the election of Barack Obama, the Tea Party movement floated the gospel that supply-side economics and a massive curtailment of government were the only solutions to the country’s woes; soon, they had everybody doing it, and every political race became a battle to see who was the most conservative.

Witness Ron Paul, the libertarian knight at whom hordes of young liberals have thrown their worship for reasons that remain inexplicable to me. My hatred for Paul is a subject for a different column, but part of my ire is reserved for the way that, every time an election rolls around, he sweeps his few high-profile liberal views under the rug and runs ads extolling how gosh darn conservative he is.

Witness Romney, previously reluctant to take public positions, skewing conservative on every social and fiscal issue nameable. He’s a malleable enough man for his handlers to create the perfect Republican, but no matter what he does before the Convention, it will come back to bite him.

This is the consequence of the conservative base’s Obama-era slide away from the mainstream electorate: A candidate far enough to the right to win the base will be forced to perform the Republican Shuffle to win over independent moderates in the general election, thus looking insincere to everybody, whereas a candidate who is actually in the middle will never get the chance to shuffle because they are not willing to step to the right.

Though this is the first election in which we’ll see this theory play out, I am confident my prediction will come true. Without a major revolution in thought, Republicans will have to continue being all things to all people: and, as anyone attempting to do that inevitably does, end up being nothing to anybody.