Fairfax, Virginia—Mitt Romney had a busy day on Monday. He started with an event in Florida, flew up to Virginia for several campaign stops around the state, then out to Ohio and up to New Hampshire to finish off the evening with a campaign rally featuring a performance by Kid Rock. At least he had some enthusiastic crowds to keep his energy high. Romney’s final Virginia campaign stop was held in George Mason University’s basketball arena in this far suburb of Washington, DC. The venue, according a Romney campaign official, took in 7,000 boisterous Romney supporters, while an estimated 10,000 more were left out in the cold. Many of them stayed outside to listen to Romney’s speech over loudspeakers, and to create a horrific traffic jam for journalists departing in cabs with rapidly rising meters.
Romney’s campaign strategy—which has managed to make a deeply uncharismatic candidate roughly tied with President Obama in the national polls on eve of Election Day—was perfectly encapsulated in this event and its crowd. It brought together the angry Republican base, with red meat subtly fed to them by surrogates, while Romney played the aspiring healer-in-chief to reach out to the proverbial soccer moms.
Among the cars on the way out was a pick-up truck with a handmade sign that read, “I vote USA born person 4 president. Nobama.” For such a nativist, the author’s command of English leaves much to be desired. The car in front of that truck had a sign in the window urging passersby, with relative subtlety, to “Vote for America.”
The speakers inside did not sink to quite that level of nationalism. But appeals to white Christian chauvinism were not entirely absent either. Governor Bob McDonnell described Romney as “a man of faith… he believes in God.” Why this is a relevant qualification—or how it distinguishes him from Obama—was not explained. But for many in the audience it presumably does not need to be. McDonnell also claimed that Romney “has lived the American dream.” Only in America could the son of a business executive and governor become a business executive and governor. That’s living the American dream, whereas, say, the half-black son of a single mother becoming president is some dystopian nightmare. McDonnell was preceded on stage by Republican senatorial candidate George Allen. Allen, who long harbored affection for the Confederacy, narrowly lost his last race after he called an Indian-American Democratic operative “Macaca.” He looks likely to lose narrowly lose again on Tuesday.
Before Allen, the crowd heard from a string of Republican congressional candidates. Their pitch suggested that voting Republican is as important to American security and greatness as flying a fighter jet in Afghanistan. “We want our country back, because we built it,” said Patrick Murray, the Republican candidate in Virginia’s 8th District. Chris Perkins, the Republican nominee in Virginia’s 11th district framed his entire pitch around his status as a retired Army colonel. “Good afternoon freedom fighters,” he began, to the crowd’s delight, as if going to a Romney rally were the equivalent of facing down Hosni Mubarak’s thugs in Tahrir Square. And, by implication, that would make President Obama a freedom-quashing autocrat. To all the veterans in the audience, he said, “I’m putting you on active duty for one more day.” The veterans loved it. But how would a veteran who does not vote Republican feel about being told that electing Mitt Romney is the same as going to war to defend the United States? Wouldn’t that mean those who vote Democratic are attacking the country?
Other speakers echoed the implication that true patriots vote Republican. McDonnell said, “Only Mitt Romney believes in a red, white and blue, all-of-the-above energy policy,” as if favoring more coal mining is a way of saluting the American flag. (Nearly every candidate, including Romney, touted Romney’s commitment to natural resource extraction. The devastation wreaked by tropical storm Sandy just 100 miles to the north apparently does not concern them.)
Romney, as part of his recent flip-flop back towards the middle, struck a less partisan tone. He repeatedly attacked Obama for his supposed failures to work with the implacably hostile Republicans in Congress, and pledged to govern in a more bipartisan manner. In a quotation that his campaign pulled out for a press release, Romney said, “We’ll reach across the aisle here in Washington to people of good faith in the other party.”
In a move as sneaky as it is politically adept, Romney blames Obama for the results of Republican obstructionism and obstinacy. “I won’t waste any time complaining about my predecessor,” said Romney. In point of fact, Obama never refers to Bush by name. He does point out that the country was suffering a catastrophic meltdown when he took office. But he only has to do that because Republicans constantly attack him with dishonest statistical claims that blame Obama for job losses on the very day he took office. So Romney and his party have cleverly boxed Obama in: blame him for Bush’s failings, and then present his response as whining. “I’m not just going to take office on January 20, I’m going to take responsibility for the office as well,” Romney vowed. The crowd loved that. Apparently, they have never seen the video of Romney defending his job creation record in Massachusetts by explaining that the state was losing jobs when he took office.
Most preposterously, Romney presents himself as the solution to the gridlock caused by his own party. “If the president were re-elected he’d still be unable to work with Congress,” said Romney. “The debt ceiling will keep up coming up, and the threat of a government shutdown will slow the economy and cost us jobs.” That should be a case for replacing the Republicans in Congress, but Romney presents it as a case for replacing Obama.
In a line Romney repeated at his final campaign rally Monday night in Manchester, New Hampshire, Romney complained that Obama has not met with the Republican congressional leadership to discuss jobs or the budget deficit since July. The crowd booed lustily, as if they were unaware that Obama and congressional Republicans are both waiting for the election results to hammer out deals, as is always the case.
“[Obama] didn’t bring the country together,” said Romney, “I will. When I’m elected, I’m going to work with Republicans and Democrats. [I’ll] find good people on either side of aisle who care more about their country than politics.”
The Romney campaign seems particularly excited by Obama’s recent offhand remark that, ““Voting is the best revenge.” In a line that video screens also thrice showed Romney saying on the trail as the crowd trickled in, Romney said, “I ask the American people to [instead] vote for love of country. I ask for you to vote for one nation.” The crowd went wild. It was weirdly reminiscent of Obama’s message in 2008: that the partisan divisions of the last term are mostly the fault of the incumbent, a small-minded politician, but a pragmatic statesman will heal the country.
In the parking lot outside the rally, a truck had painted on a sign, saying, “Lord God!! Free us from Obama’s CHAINS of change!” Romney’s serial dishonesty has allowed him to appeal to this sort of reactionary on the one hand, and relative moderates on the other. Attendees at the rally seemed younger and more diverse than the typical Romney crowd. Among them was Jessica Denson, who noted, “I’m a vegan, hispanic, single woman. I’m the anti-Republican stereotype.” Denson says she does not have strong views on social issues. But even some women in the crowd who do, such a Susan Warren, a middle aged teacher from Fairfax, who is pro-choice and a self-described moderate, were there to enthusiastically cheer for Romney. Romney staffers handed out placards that read, “Women for Mitt” on one side and “Moms for Mitt” on the other to the women in attendance. Warren told me that while Romney says he favors overturning Roe v. Wade, she is confident the Supreme Court will never do so. This is a foolish prediction for her to make, but she has probably picked up on the whispers by Romney surrogates such as former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN), making this just this bogus promise when speaking to socially moderate audiences.
The run-up to Romney’s appearance was punctuated by exuberant chants of “one more day!” It is not every day one attends a Romney rally with palpable excitement. His standing ovation was unusually loud and long and it grew positively shrill with excitement for Ann Romney. “That’s the momentum; that’s what leads me to believe I’m standing next to the next president of the United States,” declared Ann.
How did this happen? One attendee, a young man who is studying national security at a graduate school in DC, told me that his more conservative friends used to rib him for supporting Romney in the primaries, but now they have fallen into line and gotten excited about him. By consolidating them with the moderates he has fooled with his false claims of bipartisanship, Romney may have assembled a winning coalition.
While Romney accused Obama of refusing to work with half of Congress, the president called out his opponent for turning his back on 47 percent of US citizens. Check out John Nichols's coverage of the final days of the Obama campaign.