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Mitt Romney: The Inevitable Nominee?

In the midst of the rise of Rick Perry and continued speculation over the Presidential plans of such non-candidates as Chris Christie and Sarah Palin, Timothy Carney argues that, in the end, Republicans will line up behind Mitt Romney:

The fight to unseat Obama in 2012 also is expected to revolve around Obamacare — particularly its infringements on individual liberty, its naked budget gimmickry to hide a spending time bomb, and the central-planner technocratic mind-set it embodies.

So it’s hard to imagine a worse leader for this fight than Mitt Romney. Romneycare in Massachusetts not only looks a lot like Obamacare, it literally was a model for Obamacare. You would think the Republicans would want someone without an individual mandate to cast the first stone at the president. That was the conventional wisdom just a few months back.

But that conventional wisdom looks wrong now. Contrary to what a superficial reading of the polls would suggest, Romney is now the front-runner.

While he trails both Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann in Iowa polling, Romney is dominating the New Hampshire polls. In the latest 50-state Rasmussen survey — the only national poll hitting a large number of likely voters (as opposed simply to registered voters) — Romney is within the margin of error. In two general-election polls last week (a Marist nationwide poll and a Quinnipiac poll of the crucial state of Florida), Romney fared better against Obama than did Perry.

Intrade, the online futures market, now gives Romney a 44 percent chance of winning the nomination, while Perry is below 30 percent.

(…)

This leaves Republicans with the unthinkable: Romney, who ran to the left of Ted Kennedy in 1994 and who could have been Obama’s health policy director, is now the most likely man to carry the GOP nomination in 2012.

It’s Republican history repeating itself. In 2008, John McCain was the man the GOP base would never tolerate. McCain had passed unconstitutional “campaign finance reform,” resisted Bush’s tax cuts, supported a Ted Kennedy-sponsored “patients’ bill of rights,” and advocated amnesty for illegal immigrants, among other apostasies.

But ultimately, McCain was “next in line,” having come in second to George W. Bush in 2000. The GOP primary electorate settled for him.

Romney was effectively runner-up in 2008. He’s next in line. After Perry’s recent stumbles, Romney’s now at the front of the pack.

In an ordinary year, this is how things would play out. It’s largely the way that Republican nominations have played out going all the way back to 1960. As we’ve been reminded so many times, though, this isn’t an ordinary year. The other candidate who could have plausibly challenged Romney as the “next in line,” Mike Huckabee, decided not to run this time around even though several polls in the spring were showing him leading the GOP field. More importantly, the rise of the Tea Party and changes in the way that convention delegates will be allocated in the early primaries has arguably changed the dynamics of the race in several ways.

Nonetheless, Carney does have a point here. One by one, candidates have risen up to challenge Romney this year and, one by one, they’ve all fallen away. Even a hypothetical candidate like Sarah Palin was never able to beat Mitt Romney in any credible poll. The latest challenger is Perry and, while he has managed to top Perry for now he’s also faltered and there’s plenty of reasons to believe that he could end up falling away just like all the others have. If that happens, then Romney will be left standing alone.

It’s worth noting that the national polls of the field that get so much attention aren’t nearly as important as they’re made out to be. What matters are the races going on in individual states, especially the early primary states where the results are likely to give some candidates momentum, while bringing a swift end to other campaigns. Iowa looks good for Perry at the moment, Romney has a huge lead in New Hampshire. After those primaries, the race will move on to states like South Carolina, Nevada, Florida, and then the big states like New York, New Jersey, and California, where Romney is likely to have built up a very good network thanks to money and endorsements. Going forward, it’s easy to see how Romney could coast into the nomination with an air of inevitability by April or May of 2012, despite the fact that he appears to be out of step with the GOP base.

The thought of Mitt Romney accepting the nomination in Tampa in August 2012 probably makes many conservatives shudder, but as Daniel Larison notes they would have nobody to blame but themselves:

A Romney nomination is the outcome that many movement conservatives openly preferred four years ago, and it was mostly because of the unexpected and (to party elites) unwelcome spoiler role of Huckabee that kept it from happening. Opposition to McCain was understandable and laudable, but in the drive to find someone to thwart McCain many movement conservatives embraced someone who had zero credibility as the viable conservative alternative. Because of this mistake, they invested Romney with legitimacy and credibility among Republican voters that he could never have had otherwise. As fashionable as it is to throw inconvenient policy positions down the memory hole, it is harder to persuade most voters that the candidate who was acceptable enough to the movement yesterday must be rejected tomorrow.

Indeed. The Mitt Romney of 2012 is essentially the same Mitt Romney who was endorsed by National Review and lauded at CPAC 2008 when he stood in a ballroom and announced that he was withdrawing from the Presidential race.  There are, no doubt, plenty of regular non-activist conservatives out there who are wondering how they guy everyone loved in 2008 has suddenly turned into Public Enemy No. 1 (or maybe No.2, after Obama). The main reason, of course, his health care reform, but it seems odd to punish Romney for something he did many years ago when he was Governor of a state where the legislature was controlled by a large enough Democratic majority to override any veto he would make. Yes, Romney embraced the plan but what else does one expect a politician to do, especially when it contained elements that had been advanced by groups like the Heritage Foundation only a few years previously? I’m not really much of a Romney fan personally, but when I hear some conservatives say that there’s no difference between him and the President, I just roll my eyes. That statement is not only wrong, it’s ridiculously wrong.

The GOP could do a lot worse than having Mitt Romney as it’s nominee, heck it could do so by nominating some of the people running against him. If he does end up winning the nomination there will be some complaining by the activists, but they’ll get in line behind him just like they got in line behind McCain.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Moosebreath says:

    Meh. The contest will come down to Romney and the survivor of the death cage match to be the last surviving non-Romney (whether Perry, Bachmann, Cain, Santorum, or a conservative to be named later). Even if the non-Romney field is crowded now, and thus drives down the polling for each individual non-Romney, as the field winnows, all of the non-Romney votes (excluding rounding errors like Huntsman supporters) will go to other non-Romneys. Romney is just too unacceptable to too much of the base, at a time when the base is unwilling to accept 90% of a loaf on anything.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. MBunge says:

    Mark it down. Romney is NOT going to be the nominee. Last time around he couldn’t beat Huckabee or McCain, two candidates who essentially ran their campaigns with the change found every morning in their hotel room’s couch. Now he’s running against a guy who will probably be able to match him dollar for dollar.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. Hey Norm says:

    It’s his turn.
    Isn’t that how the so-called republicans work it?
    In 2008 it was McCain’s turn. Now it’s Romney.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  4. ponce says:

    I was just reading Romney got a two and a half year military deferment at the height of the Vietnam War to go on a Mormon mission to the struggling third world country of…France.

    Combined with his college deferments, he almost avoided the whole thing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  5. EddieInCA says:

    Really?

    If Romney is the nominee, there will be a third party challenge from the right. Palin, Bachmann, Paul, or even Cain will run as the “true” conservative…

    … and guarantee an Obama victory.

    If there is no third party candidate on the right, too many evangelical Christians stay home on Election Day…

    … and guarantee an Obama Victory.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  6. mantis says:

    I hope he’s not. We need Michele Bachmann to protect us from Khrushchev Hezbollah installing missiles in Cuba. Wait, what?

    Oh, not to worry. She will also protect us from the “rise of the Soviet Union,” so that’s a relief.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  7. Terrye says:

    Doug, I agree with you.

    The idea that there is no difference between Obama and Romney is ridiculous..it is also ridiculous to try and blame Obamacare on Mitt Romney. I mean come on, Democrats have been pushing for a plan like this since Truman was president.

    And if conservative can overlook in state tuition for illegals by the state of Texas then they should be able to give Romney some wiggle room here.

    This is what Romney said about the Mass plan:

    “My own preference would be to let each state fashion its own program to meet the distinct needs of its citizens. States could follow the Massachusetts model if they choose, or they could develop plans of their own.”

    That is a fairly straight forward comment. I fail to see why people need to suddenly turn on the man. The truth is there are people out there who will never be satisfied. Never ever.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  8. Moosebreath says:

    “it is also ridiculous to try and blame Obamacare on Mitt Romney. I mean come on, Democrats have been pushing for a plan like this since Truman was president. ”

    Umm no, but thanks for playing. What Obama passed was the Republican alternative to Hillarycare.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  9. ImpeachOBAMA says:

    The media is determined to decide our nominee for us. Romney is their choice, not necessarily ours. I am STILL for Perry. I would vote for Gingrich or Cain too. Don’t let the media and the pundits DECIDE who to vote for. Do your own vetting and research and trust your gut. There is NO perfect candidate out there. Whomever wins the nomination, we need to get behind and vote them in as next president. Be it Perry, Romney or whomever.

    Anyone But Obama 2012.

    Also, please don’t forget Fast & Furious. Justice for Brian Terry. Don’t let Obama and Holder get away with MUR – DER.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  10. An Interested Party says:

    I was just reading Romney got a two and a half year military deferment at the height of the Vietnam War to go on a Mormon mission to the struggling third world country of…France.

    Combined with his college deferments, he almost avoided the whole thing.

    Well he is a Republican…the party of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, Tom Delay, John Ashcroft, Karl Rove, Phil Gramm, Rush Limbaugh, among many others…hell, no wonder John McCain looks good by comparison…

    …it is also ridiculous to try and blame Obamacare on Mitt Romney. I mean come on, Democrats have been pushing for a plan like this since Truman was president.

    Oh yes, the Democrats have been pushing a Republican health care plan from the 1990s since Truman was president…those clever, crafty, time traveling Democrats…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  11. Ben Wolf says:

    @MBunge: You’re forgetting that Romney has a signifcant advantage over Obama: he isn’t black, and doesn’t have an uphill battle against his own skin color to fight. There’s a very large segment who might, on a cold day in hell, have possibly considered voting for a right-wing Democrat of the “vanilla” variety. There’s zero chance they’ll vote for a man they consider “one of those”. Combine this with the state of the economy and Obama is already in serious trouble.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  12. Ben Wolf says:

    Actually I’ll go further, because I want to be the one on record saying this first: I think Obama’s whole center-right swing wince the election results from recognizing how vulnerable the President will be as an incumbent. They hoped to overcome his racial handicap by appealing to conservative swing voters and independents, and it wouldn’t surprise me Obama’s skin color has been a strategic consideration from day one of his presidency. This is still a racist country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  13. Anonne says:

    @ImpeachOBAMA:

    Don’t let the media and the pundits DECIDE who to vote for. Do your own vetting and research and trust your gut.

    That’s a laugh. Coming from someone who probably relies on Fox for their daily anti-Obama spin, what other outlets are you supposed to look at? The crackpot blogosphere airing out all kinds of conspiracy theories?

    The problem is that you guys trust your gut and don’t actually look at facts, and then happily lap up Republican snake oil. That’s why this country is the mess that it is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. Anonne says:

    @Ben Wolf: His rightward swing started long before the midterm election. He thought he could pull off the same kind of success Clinton did, except for two things: He is no Clinton, and this Congress is far, far more vindictive.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  15. Ben Wolf says:

    @Anonne: The 2008 election is the one I’m referring to, and yes, Clinton also tried to appeal to more conservative voters, but not in as systemic a way as Obama. His swing to the right happened immediately following his election in November.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  16. grandmapat says:

    Please not Romney, he has had his turn and 5 years to slick his agenda. How many times has he flip-floped on issuses. What will happen Obama will be easy logic-to win re-election keep the devil we have over the devil we don’t know about. He’s is a hypercrite, went after Perry and it was personal with Mitt, but now he is saying Mr. Cain is a nice and good man. Wait until Mr. Cain pulls ahead of Mitt and watch the poisen come out.

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