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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mitt Romney's "Mitt Romney Problem"

(Editor's note: This week, I'll check in on the candidates by giving each of them one column. To see the latest standings, schedule, and polls, see Sunday's column here
For the "State of the Newton," click here.

For the "Gospel of Paul," click here.
For "Right as Rick, click here.
For live blog coverage of Wednesday's Arizona debate, click here.
We'll conclude with the state of the Romney Campaign.
)

Mitt Romney
Estimated delegate count: CNN-127 (1st), RCP-98 (1st), Wikipedia-123 (1st)
Official delegate count: 91 (1st place)


Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.


On Tuesday, I wrote that the best part about Ron Paul was that he means what he says and he says what he means. With Mitt Romney, however, we don't really know what he means, even as he's saying it. Of course, we don't know if he's lying, either. That's what's so frustrating about his candidacy.

He has a serious connection problem with the electorate. Despite being the primary-long frontrunner, despite the label of inevitability, despite the support of the Republican establishment that generally awarded him "Next" status, Mitt Romney simply can't connect with the people. He's long honed his skill of telling the people what they want to hear, but that's finally coming back to bite him. He ran moderately for US Senate in Massachusetts, then again for Governor. Now, despite his conservative talk--I mean, what does he say that isn't conservative these days?--he can't seal the deal. In future elections, we're going to refer to this as the "Mitt Romney Problem." This has been the creation of the label.

There are three main symptoms of the MRP. First, the candidate must be the clear favorite heading into a primary; in aggressive strains, they'd even be considered inevitable to win it. Second, despite the inevitability, the connection to the voters never fully takes place--due to either rhetorical problems or untrustworthiness--leaving everyone scratching their heads. Finally, the desperate need to win over more voters--and the extremist tendencies to which that leads--leaves the inevitable candidate vulnerable for the next stage.

Romney clearly embodies the first symptom. He has been the favorite to win the 2012 Republican nomination since 2009. He's essentially been running for the nomination since 2007. Early in the current primary season, he grew a war chest and national organization unmatched by his Republican rivals. Besides a week in December and then now, he's led national GOP polls for over a year. The reason for his lead and position as favorite, aside from his superior money and infrastructure, is that he's generally thought of as the most electable candidate in the race.

But is really electable? He's actually lost a majority of the Republican contests. He's only once garnered 50 percent of a contest's vote, and that was by the slimmest of majorities--a 50.1 percent in Nevada. Regarding his most recent win--the Maine Caucus, which stopped his three-state losing streak--the New York Times wrote, "Mitt Romney averted embarrassment on Saturday when he was declared the winner of a presidential straw poll in Maine’s nonbinding caucuses." Apparently, finishing with under 40 percent of the vote, in a next-to-home-state contest, where only one other candidate tried to win, and that one candidate was Ron Paul, and the victory over Ron Paul was by only three points, is "averting embarrassment."


Then we have his inability to connect, which is the cause of his often-a-plurality-but-never-a-majority results. As Sarah Palin recently claimed, Romney can't "get over the hump" with conservatives. It must be frustrating for him. Ever since he began running for the Republican nomination for president, he's actually saying and doing everything right. He uses conservative rhetoric. He puts forth conservative proposals. He attacks the Democratic President. He models himself after Ronald Reagan. He says and does everything right, including, of course, claiming to be ideologically "right."

It just hasn't been good enough. It has taken far too long to finish the other candidates, and even now it's only about to happen because none of the other candidates were serious enough contenders. Romney's past moderate statements and positions on abortion, gay rights, and health care, among others, have proven too much to overcome. It smacks of political convenience and a weathervane ideology. He might actually have grown to be a true conservative in the last fifteen years, but it's very difficult for many in the GOP to believe that it's simply a coincidence that he grew more conservative when he decided to run for the Republican nomination.

Still, he'll be the nominee. His strong plurality should be enough to eventually make clear that no other candidate can win, and that if the Republican Party wants some semblance of unity, they'll need to rally around him well before August's convention. With his big lead in winner-take-all Arizona and his reclamation and extension of the lead and momentum in Michigan, he'll win both of those, extend his lead, then subsequently extend it even more on Super Tuesday. The suspense, so soon after its zenith, will plummet to its nadir.

Eventually, however, we will look with eager eyes to the general election, and the third symptom of the Mitt Romney Problem will rear its ugly head. One of the more fascinating facets of the general will be how this contentious primary affects Romney's campaign against President Obama. Has the primary irrevocably damaged Romney for the general election?


I don't mean this in the way most others do. If anyone is discussing how an extended primary season hurts Romney, they usually mean that his rivals have provided countless sound bites and immeasurable ammunition for the President and his campaign to use this summer and fall. The Obama Campaign could come out, guns blazing, and dismantle his opponent using Republicans' words against him.

I'm thinking, however, that the extended primary hurts Romney in a different way, a way related to the MRP. The premise, here, is that Romney's inability to quickly put away his rivals has ultimately driven him further and further right in an attempt to win over the conservative base of the party.


However, he has driven so far right that there is simply no way he can maneuver back to the center. Barely 40 percent of the GOP likes Romney as it is. The rest think he's a phony (or a Mormon). Come general election season, either he stays far right and loses just like Santorum would, or he goes back to the middle, marking the second enormous ideological shift of his career. The flip-flopping charges against John Kerry will pale in comparison to what the Democrats will do to the moderate-turned-conservative-turned-moderate. He'd lose the Republican right, fail to win over the suspicious center, and the left would laugh all the way to four more year.

The "Mitt Romney Problem" will be seen again in future primaries. By then there might be a cure. For now, however, it looks to be terminal.

1 comment:

power washing ct said...

Wow, the "Mitt Romney Problem" seems to sum it up. Hit the nail on the head. Iam worried about what does he really stand for?

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