Romney is the winner in Kansas, if not D.C.

Posted: May 04, 2007 3:30 PM

America is not purple. It is very red and it is very blue.

For those of us who have been arguing that there is little difference between Republicans and Democrats, last night was a reminder of the stark differences that still divide our country. The GOP contenders were so much more conservative in tone and content than last week’s Democratic pack that we should all expect another divisive general election.

Republicans were so much more hawkish on matters of war and peace. Last week, Hillary Clinton got praised from pundits for promising “retaliation” against any power that nukes two American cities. Last night, John McCain promised to follow Osama bin Laden to the “gates of Hell” while Mitt Romney simply said, “He will die.”

That’s a far cry from Obama’s promise to face terrorist attacks by focusing on first responders and studying the lessons of Hurricane relief.

Republicans also struck a tougher tone against illegal immigrants, abortion and foreign types running for president. The Democratic field all defended the practice of partial birth abortion, while Republicans were overwhelmingly pro-life. That may be why Rudy Giuliani’s worst moment for Republican voters was when he said overturning Roe v. Wade would be “okay.”

Okay? Good Lord, man. Get yourself a pithy two minute abortion answer and repeat it in front of the mirror a hundred times.

Last night’s debate also showed a huge gulf between the reporters who cover such events and Republican voters who follow campaigns. I hope it is not a shock to anyone that most journalists covering D.C. politics relate to Democratic world views much more than those held by Republicans. My peers do a great job of putting their biases in check (myself included, I hope) but many are tone deaf when figuring out why Republican primary voters would embrace a guy like Mitt Romney who is now pro-life, pro-family and pro-everything-that-evangelical-voters-could-want-him-to-be.

During the debate I was flooded by e-mails from Republican activists and voters who told me Romney was dominating the debate. Meanwhile, my friends from D.C., Manhattan and L.A. were calling him “creepy,” “fake” and “scary as hell.”

By that reaction alone, Mitt Romney carried the mantle of Reagan off the stage last night. Like Romney, the 40th president was derided as a jingoistic right-wing nut. The greatest Reagan moment for the former Massachusetts governor came when he was asked what he hated most about America.

You could almost hear the Gipper’s laughs rising from his grave outside the auditorium.

“Clueless,” he would chuckle. “After all these years and all those Republican victories, the press still doesn’t get it.”

But Mitt Romney did, and he delivered an answer that would have made most angst-ridden reporters (and Democratic candidates) wince. It was an unapologetically delivered sermon on American Exceptionalism. The sort of speech that made media elites roll their eyes at Ronald Reagan while American voters were electing him in landslide margins.

And while most media commentators missed Romney’s victory, they also underplayed John McCain’s stumbles. That’s probably because McCain still scares reporters less than the Sam Brownbacks of the world. Regardless, this first debate was not good for John McCain, a politician for whom I have great respect and admiration. Reporters gave his uneven performance a free pass. GOP voters may not be so forgiving.

I’m not saying that Romney is Reagan anymore than I’m predicting the collapse of John McCain’s campaign. But there were clear winners and losers in last night’s contest. Among those Red State Republicans (who will elect their party’s next nominee), Mitt Romney won while McCain and Giuliani failed to meet expectations.

That may not be how it looks in Georgetown or the Upper West Side, but that’s how it is playing in Kansas. And what’s the matter with Kansas? Not a damn thing.