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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Romney: The Worst of Both Worlds for the GOP

I came across two interesting posts this morning that got me thinking some more about the Republican nomination contest.

The first is Steve Benen’s summation of Mitt Romney’s most recent political woes:

Think about where Mitt Romney stood a week ago. He’d won the nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire; his national lead was large and getting larger; and he enjoyed double-digit leads over his squabbling competitors in the South Carolina primary.
And then think about where Romney stands this morning. It turns out he lost Iowa to a candidate he outspent 7 to 1; his national lead has, according to Gallup, “collapsed” over the course of the last several days; he struggled through two widely-panned debate performances; and polls suggest he’s likely to lose the South Carolina primary.

It’s likely, in about 12 hours, the only contest Romney will have won will be in the state he lives in for much of the year.
Benen goes on to point out that far and away Romney’s biggest political liability is that voters just don’t like him – the more people see of him, the less likely they are to want to vote for him.
This ties in very well with Steve M.’s comment “A Blind Romney Finds a Nut,” in which he argues that Romney’s apparent refusal to participate in Monday’s GOP debate in Tampa may be the best way to quash Newt Gingrich’s surging momentum.  Newt doesn’t have the money to fund an ad campaign that can keep up with Romney’s in Florida, but Newt does very well in debate formats and has successfully leveraged those performances to keep his candidacy viable. 
Steve M. goes on to speculate that – as the “establishment Republican candidate” – Romney may well benefit by the GOP establishment deciding to simply cancel any further debates, thereby depriving Gingrich of the oxygen he needs to continue his assault on Romney.  I would suggest that such a move might also benefit Romney directly by keeping him from further alienating primary voters with his very personality.
Assuming both Steves’ observations are more or less on point, my question is:  what does the Republican Party hope to gain by engineering the nomination of the guy that the rabid Republican base simply cannot stand?
After all, Romney’s big selling point – the reason he was supposed to be the inevitable Republican nominee – has always been his supposed “electability.”  Bachmann, Cain, Santorum, Gingrich . . . each was considered too extreme a candidate to do well in the general election.  So while the GOP base switched from one candidate to the other searching for the anti-Romney, a candidate about whom they could be excited, the GOP political apparatus quietly lined up behind Mitt.  The thinking seems to have been that nobody in the Republican Party liked Romney, but in the general election they would all hold their noses and grudgingly vote for him and that he might in fact be able to beat Barack Obama in November.
But while Romney may not be too blatantly “extreme,” it sure is beginning to look like he is too patently unlikeable to actually win.  When it comes to Romney, even the slightest degree of familiarity is sufficient to breed truckloads of contempt.
But if Romney is just as unelectable as the other candidates (albeit for a slightly different reason), then I just don’t see what the downside is for the Republicans if they ran Gingrich or Santorum instead.  They’d lose – sure – but at least they’d be running a candidate that actual Republican voters could be enthusiastic about.  Instead, what they are likely to end up doing is running a candidate that actual Republican voters simply cannot stand and then lose the contest anyway – the worst of both worlds for the GOP.
Unfortunately, it may very well be a lousy outcome for the rest of us as well.
As others have pointed out before me, losing with Romney will only exacerbate the current craziness of the GOP.  If they run Mitt Romney and he loses to Barack Obama – the man whom most Republican know-nothings have convinced themselves is the most reviled president in modern history – it will only be further confirmation that they lost by being too moderate.
They will – just as they did after the 2006 and 2008 elections – double-down on the Crazy.  If you thought the American political landscape has been a bit nutty since the Tea Partiers got started, just wait until you see what it’s going to be like after the unlikable “moderate” Mitt Romney dashes all those Teabaggers’ dreams.
The Crazification Factor will go all the way up to Eleven.  

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