PRIMAL FEAR. As Ezra notes, questions about Mitt Romney's religion could be getting too much attention, given the fact that it is Romney as an individual people will either be voting for or against. But the Romney campaign is obviously acutely aware of the question of whether conservatives will consider Romney "one of us" or not. Today's Boston Globe has an article on that most delicious of campaign stories, the leaked strategy Powerpoint:
The plan, for instance, indicates that Romney will define himself in part by focusing on and highlighting enemies and adversaries, such common political targets as "jihadism," the "Washington establishment," and taxes, but also Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, "European-style socialism," and, specifically, France. Even Massachusetts, where Romney has lived for almost 40 years, is listed as one of those "bogeymen," alongside liberalism and Hollywood values.
Indeed, a page titled "Primal Code for Brand Romney" said that Romney should define himself as a foil to Bay State Democrats such as Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry and former governor Michael Dukakis.
"Primal" is right. Romney's campaign already has an early-1980s feel to it; his first ad proclaimed, "I believe the American people are overtaxed and the government is overfed." But his chief advisor Alex Castellanos, who has made a career out of defining his clients' opponents as dark, threatening representatives of The Other, knows just what he's doing. In order to convince conservatives that he's one of them, Romney will have to show them he has the right enemies; in other words, he hates the people they hate. That's how you define tribal borders: by identifying and demonizing the enemy.
Rick Perlstein recently argued that Romney's decision to announce his candidacy at a museum honoring noted xenophobic anti-Semite Henry Ford was a calculated piece of tribal signaling, akin to Ronald Reagan's 1980 announcement speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964. With all three of the leading Republican candidates facing questions about their conservative bona fides, the race on the GOP side is likely to go through a couple of stages. First, each one will work to convince voters that he really, really can't stand gay family-destroyers, decadent Hollywood pornography-mongers, and anyone else who gets conservatives' blood pumping (Romney will certainly be taking a bold stand when he goes after the French). Then they'll turn their guns on each other, arguing that the other guys are the ones who embody all the values conservatives hate. It should be surpassingly ugly, and fun to watch.