With the presidential campaign kicking into overdrive, an interesting polling trend largely has perplexed news outlets across the country. With a sputtering economy and middling at best approval ratings, how has President Obama consistently maintained a polling edge on Mitt Romney? Depending on the newspaper or television commentator, explanations run the gamut. The Washington Times is likely to conclude that it's because Muslims have mind-control powers. Sometimes, the pundits will leave the matter completely open-ended.
In the wake of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., I humbly suggest my take on Obama's persistent edge: Despite having the benefit of a bad economy to campaign against, the Republican Party never has been worse at messaging in a way that's attractive to voters.
This lack of discipline has been fairly obvious since early 2011, when the House of Representatives, various state legislatures and governors saw Republicans ascendant. But despite achieving their sweeps on the promise of addressing jobs and financial issues, their inaugurations were shortly followed by a record wave of apropos-of-nothing, anti-abortion legislation.
While the anti-abortion politics is pretty much expected of them at this point, it seems they just can't stop digging, despite that more than 70 percent of Americans think a woman should have access to an abortion in case of rape. The party doesn't appear to have gotten the memo. A few weeks ago, U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri infamously claimed that in cases of "legitimate rape … the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down." While Akin was thoroughly castigated for the remark by most of his party, the recently completed party platform, as overseen by Gov. Bob McDonnell, calls for a total ban on abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest.
Similarly, this past week Senate candidate Tom Smith of Pennsylvania claimed that he also was against a rape exception because his daughter had found herself in a similar position, which he went on to explain was her being pregnant out of wedlock. Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, has worked with Akin in writing some of the most restrictive anti-abortion legislation to reach the House floor in years. In light of all this, when Ann Romney began her speech at the Republican National Convention with a cry of "I love you, women!" it seemed less like spontaneous enthusiasm and more like desperate reassurance.
It isn't just its stance on women's rights issues that the GOP can't make appealing. Former senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum was deployed at the convention Tuesday night to throw out some red meat, and he hit all the base's high notes. He not only falsely claimed that the president had waived welfare work requirements, but also returned to his favorite issue by decrying an "assault on marriage," and also said that he "shook the hand of the American dream, and it has a strong grip": I have no idea what this means. Also stoking the fires at the convention was former Arkansas governor and current television and radio host Mike Huckabee, who earlier defended Akin by mentioning that gospel singer Ethel Waters was the product of a rape, which apparently is inspirational or something.
But one incident that made headlines had nothing to do with the convention's speakers. According to CNN, two unnamed convention attendees were removed for throwing peanuts at an African-American camerawoman and saying, "This is how we feed animals."
In short, the convention has driven home what's been the clear case for a while: One of the reasons Romney can't seem to pull out a stronger lead, even with the economy being what it is, is that the GOP simply isn't disciplined enough to make its case in a way that doesn't terrify and alienate people outside of its base. And that's in large part because it's confused anti-incumbent sentiment — which you get in any bad economy, regardless of the party in power — with enthusiasm for the frothing, reactionary social conservatism that has become the party's stock in trade.
If Romney and the Republican Party manage a victory in November, it will be despite this baggage, not because of it. S
Zack Budryk is a freelance writer living in Richmond.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.