Nate Silver, the political oracle behind Five Thirty-Eight argues that Mitt Romney is becoming close to the inevitable GOP nominee in 2012—and while Silver notes that Romney certainly can lose, there’s no one else in the field that has the staying power to take him down. Even though the GOP isn’t in love with the idea of a Romney candidacy, no one has been able to mount a serious, long-term challenge to Romney.
The past few months of the 2012 campaign has seen a dynamic between Romney running slow but steady, with a series of putative challengers rising and falling. At first, Michele Bachmann was looking like the anti-Romney, until the GOP electorate realized that she was great as an ideological happy warrior, but has no appeal outside her base. Congresswoman Bachmann is a solid and principled conservative, but she is no the sort of person who can win in a national election. So she peaked early and has not regained momentum since.
Then the GOP electorate moved on to Rick Perry—until Governor Perry opened his mouth and made a fool of himself. One bad debate performance is not necessarily enough to doom a candidacy, but a series of them made it clear that Perry was not remotely ready for prime-time. If Perry can’t win over a friendly audience, he would have zero chance against Obama. What momentum Perry had after announcing was quickly diminished as Perry proved himself unprepared and prone to embarrassing verbal gaffes.
Then came Herman Cain, the next flavor of the week. Cain made some bold policy moves with his “9-9-9? plan. But his bold policies had no chance of working in the real world. Then Cain, like Perry, demonstrated that he was criminally unprepared for the task of running for President. (Yes, Mr. Cain, you should know something about those countries with “-stan” at the end if you want to be taken seriously as a candidate.) Then a drip of scandal turned into a torrent, as numerous women accused Cain of having affairs with them—and while a few anonymous allegations don’t count for much, a flood of them with details do. In the end, Cain was forced to leave the race in relative disgrace.
The last flavor of the week has been Newt Gingrich—who unlike Cain and Perry is an intellectual force to be reckoned with. But as brilliant as Newt may be, he is equally undisciplined. His attack on the judiciary was intended to be red meat for the conservative base, but it was deeply irresponsible and not at all in line with constitutional conservatism. Newt has taken many of the same positions that Romney has, and to call him the conservative alternative to Romney is a joke. Newt may be a great thinker who does well in debates, but he would likely implode long before mounting a challenge to Obama.
The rest of the field also underwhelms. Santorum’s last electoral experience was a double-digit blowout loss, and he has little appeal outside hardcore social conservatives. Jon Huntsman is running in the wrong party’s primary. Ron Paul is, to put it charitably, an isolationist conspiracy-mongering nutball.
By nothing more than default, Mitt Romney is the only candidate left on the field that is not damaged goods in some form or fashion. But the question then becomes, is Romney an acceptable candidate for the GOP nomination in 2012?
The Case For Romney
John Hinderaker at Power Line makes the case for Romney as the 2012 GOP nominee:
In electing a president, we are choosing someone to run the Executive Branch. A leader, to be sure, but not a speechmaker, a bomb-thrower, a quipster, a television personality or an exemplar of ideological purity. At this point in our history, the United States desperately needs a leader who understands the economy, the world of business, and, more generally, how the world works. We have had more than enough of a leader who was good at giving speeches and was ideologically pure, but who had no clue how the economy works or how the federal government can be administered without resort to graft and corruption. It is time for a president who knows what he is doing.
Hinderaker gives four arguments why Romney is the strongest candidate in the race, and the candidate most likely to beat President Obama, including the fact that in a time when the United States is badly in need on a turnaround, who better suited to fix our national problems than someone who has years of experience turning around failing companies?
On the other side, John Hawkins provides 7 reasons why he believes that Romney’s “electability” is a myth.
Hinderaker seems to have the better of the arguments here. What we do know of Romney’s general-election prospects come from early polling—and of the early general-election polls, Romney runs ahead of the rest of the Republican field in key states like Ohio. What candidate has a chance of doing better than Mitt Romney at this point? Gingrich? Paul? Perry? Santorum? Does anyone believe that anyone else in this field has a credible shot at taking on Obama and winning?
Romney’s conservative bona fides are constantly questioned, but Gingrich is no less an “establishment” figure and has departed from conservative orthodoxy just as much as Romney. Romney may not be every conservative’s ideal candidate, but he’s the most conservative candidate with a realistic prayer of winning.
A President Romney is not going to veto a conservative Congress’ budget cuts. A President Romney would not dramatically increase the size and scope of the federal government—certainly not when paired with a conservative Congress. A President Romney is a step forward for the nation—four more years of President Obama would be a disaster at a time when fiscal discipline is no longer optional.
Mitt Romney has a compelling narrative going into 2012: the turnaround artist for a country that faces bankruptcy. While the Republican Party should listen to Hawkin’s arguments against Romney’s electability and start working on contingencies to address them, the fact remains that Romney has the best chance to beat President Obama in 2012. He’s the only candidate that has a realistic chance to beat the President this year and restore some semblance of fiscal sanity to the Executive Branch.
And that is ultimately why I believe than Romney will be the 2012 nominee for the Republican Party. At the end of the day, the one thing that Establishment Republicans and conservative activists all want is to unseat President Obama. Romney is the one that is most likely to do it, and the GOP electorate has run through all the alternatives in the hopes of finding a more conservative challenger. At the end of the day, Romney has survived while others have faltered, and he is the candidate best positioned to take on the President and beat him.
Finally, the next four years will be crucial for the future of this country. While every election is tagged as the “most important” election ever, the stakes continue to get higher and higher for this country. Say what you want about Romney, he has years of experience in the private sector taking failing organizations and turning them into profitable and efficient ones. Taking on the U.S. government will be orders of magnitude more difficult than that, but Romney’s experience is relevant to the challenges ahead. We may not be getting our dream candidate, but we never were going to get that. Romney is conservative enough to be acceptable, is effective enough to run a disciplined campaign, and is smart and tough enough to lead this country. In the end, that is what matters.