After last week's Super Tuesday struggles, and heading into embarrassingly tough races in Alabama and Mississippi, Mitt Romney looks more and more like a bride in a traditional marriage arranged by GOP elders. Mitt may be eagerly going to the wedding, but the groom — the base of conservative, evangelical Republicans — isn't exactly thrilled with the match. In the end, the marriage will still likely happen. But at what cost to our poor bride?
Painful efforts to woo the Right have been quite costly for Romney, and will severely hamstring his nearly inevitable general election campaign. When he first entered the primary, Romney had the real advantage of touting his business background and economic smarts. But Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich boxed him into a corner by shifting the debate to social and religious controversies —where Romney cannot pass the "conservative" test no matter how many times he repeats, emphatically and poetically, "I am severely conservative." The skeptical groom doesn't buy it.
Mitt the bride is biding his time, praying for the quick arrival of the day of consummation.
To court the conservative core, Romney has missed opportunities to connect with the larger population of Americans who are vital to his chances in the November election. When Rush Limbaugh went on a misogynistic tirade, Mitt, fearful of alienating his skittish conservative groom, whiffed on a chance to win over female voters. Far from condemning the talking head's extremely inappropriate comments, Mitt merely said Limbaugh's casual use of the word "slut" was "not the kind of language I would have used." No wonder Romney is 20 points behind Obama among women voters. And still, the groom isn't ready to settle down.
And while Mitt's Limbaugh spinelessness will cost him with female voters, Romney is losing another key voting general-election voting bloc with his preposterously tough talk on immigration. Given his record as a moderate governor in one of the nation's most liberal states, you'd think Romney might perform well with Latinos. But driven by a Tea Party frenzy and the rising tide of anti-immigration sentiments sweeping through states that are bastions of conservatism, Romney has veered farther to the right on immigration than any other GOP candidate in the field. The result? Only 15 percent of Latinos are leaning toward Romney. (George W. Bush scored 45 percent of the Latino vote in 2004.) And still, even though our eager bride has abandoned Latinos and women, the Tea Party-swilling groom isn't ready to settle down.
These days, when Romney speaks, his remarks are remarkably by-the-book, repetitious, boring, careful, and passionless. It could be that the bride is playing coy after a series of unforced errors. But more likely, the bride is biding her time, praying for the quick arrival of the day of consummation. Mitt doesn't want to say anything to scare off his skittish groom.
The good news for Romney is that in most traditional marriages, tyrannical parents call the shots, and fulfill their own wishes against the will of their children. Sometimes, these marriages last, as couples learn to live with each other, and sometimes even fall in love.
The bad news for Romney? Twenty-first century America doesn't exactly smile on arranged marriages.
Come November 6, Romney better hope that the evangelical conservatives who have so far shunned him will have a change of heart and show up at the altar — if not for love, at least out of spite for Obama.
But here is a cautionary tale for Romney: When I was growing up in a small town in China, a neighborhood guy was forced into an arranged marriage to a girl he did not particularly care for. On the day of the wedding, he disappeared, only to be found later sitting in a dark movie theater, drunk as a loon. He boycotted the wedding until it was called off.