Mitt Romney Still The Inevitable Nominee

As of now, there's no reason to believe that Mitt Romney won't be the Republican nominee in 2012.

Ross Douthat argues that despite all the complaining you hear from the right, despite the rise of Michele Bachmann, then Rick Perry, and now Herman Cain, Mitt Romney is still on track to be the Republican nominee for President in 2012:

For the next three months, the political press will engage in an extended masquerade, designed to persuade credulous readers and excitable viewers that the Republican presidential nomination is actually up for grabs.

Last week the big story was Herman Cain’s rise to the top of the polls, and then Rick Perry’s combativeness at the Las Vegas debate. Next week, perhaps, it will be Newt Gingrich’s surprising resilience or Ron Paul’s potential strength in the early caucuses or the appeal of Perry’s flat-tax plan. Then there will come a debate in which Mitt Romney looks shabby instead of smooth, a poll that shows one of his rivals surging, a moment when all his many weaknesses are on every pundit’s lips.

Please do not listen to any of them. Ignore the Politico daily briefings, the Rasmussen tracking polls, the angst from conservative activists over Romney’s past deviations and present-day dishonesties. Please ignore me as well, should campaign fever inspire a column about the Santorum surge or the Huntsman scenario. Because barring an unprecedented suspension of the laws of American politics, Mitt Romney has this thing wrapped up.

Note that I am not saying that he will win every primary or caucus. He could easily lose Iowa to somebody, and if he loses Iowa, he will probably lose some Southern primaries as well, giving political reporters grist for the horse race narrative they crave.

But Romney’s path to the nomination is more wide open than for any nonincumbent in decades. He should win New Hampshire and Nevada, Florida and Michigan. He should dominate the Rust Belt, the Northeast and the Mountain West. And if need be, he can seal the nomination late, with wins in the New York and California primaries.

For now, though, none of his rivals look capable of even pushing the race that far. They don’t have the money or the organizational muscle, but more important they aren’t clearing the first hurdle that every presidential candidate faces. After months of campaigning, it is nearly impossible to imagine any of them as a major party’s nominee, much less in the White House.

This isn’t a new argument, of course. James Joyner noted earlier this month that the nomination was essentially Romney’s to lose, and I said the same thing back in September. Notwithstanding the continued surge of Herman Cain and the renewed speculation about a Rick Perry resurgence, there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason to believe that it still isn’t true. For one thing, Perry still isn’t showing any signs of reversing the sharp, steep decline that started shortly after he appeared on national television for his first debate. There seems to be a consensus among some pundits on the right that he “did better” in the last debate, but that’s perception still isn’t showing up in the polls and there are signs that Perry’s slide in the polls has also been accompanied by a slide in fundraising:

In his first week on the trail, Perry raised more than $1.5 million from supporters who donated more than $200 each, the FEC reports show. He raised another $2 million the following week and a staggering $5.3 million during the week of Aug. 28, when buzz around his candidacy reached a peak.

Perry’s three worst fundraising weeks coincided with a series of weak debate performances. Perry’s halting style, inability to hit talking points, and apparent fatigue toward the end of the debates sent his poll numbers plunging.

His fundraising followed suit. Perry raised $858,000 the week of the Sept. 7 debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. He raised $1.3 million the following week, when GOP presidential hopefuls debated in Tampa, Fla.

(…)

Back-to-back debates put pressure on every candidate’s fundraising schedule. Romney, Perry, and Cain all raised less during debate weeks than during off weeks.

But Perry’s September dropoff was so sudden and steep it suggests other factors were at work. To the Texas governor, putting his campaign on the right track is essential to attracting the high-dollar donors, upon which he most heavily relies, to fund his campaign. Of the $17 million he raised in his first full quarter as a candidate, $16.3 million, or 96 percent, came in chunks greater than $200—the level at which the FEC requires campaigns to list the names and occupations of donors.

By contrast, Romney received about 86 percent, or $12.1 million of the $14.1 million he raised in the last quarter, from big donors.

It’s worth noting that Perry did raise $3.7 million in the final week of the reporting quarter, and that much of the money he raised during the Third Quarter was front-loaded, meaning that it was probably inevitable that there would be some drop-off in September. Nonetheless, the combination of the bad debate performances, the drop in the polls, and the drop in fundraising should be worrisome to Perry’s campaign. If it means that the donors have decided to sit on the sidelines to see if Perry is still a horse worth backing (nobody likes to give money to someone who isn’t likely to win, after all) or, worse, jumps ship to Romney, then he could have a serious problem even with that $15 million in the bank.  Perry is scheduled to roll out a new tax plan rumored to be modeled on the kind of flat tax plan that Steve Forbes championed in 1996 and 2000 and there are many speculating that it could be the beginning of the seemingly inevitable comeback. Whether that will happen or not is unclear, what is clear, though, is that unless Perry starts turning things around immediately it’s going to be more and more difficult for him to turn things around in time.

Herman Cain, meanwhile, still isn’t a credible candidate notwithstanding his rise in the polls. His tax plan does not stand up to serious scrutiny from either the left or the right. He can’t seem to figure out whether he stands on issues ranging from abortion to gay marriage. He has no real understanding of foreign policy. He raised less than $3 million in the Third Quarter. He’s been spending most of the past month or so on a book tour that took him to states that don’t have primaries until March or April. And, most importantly, he still doesn’t appear to have anything resembling a serious campaign effort. Cain has benefited from a combination of Perry’s fall, the lack of a credible conservative alternative, and the fact that he is, if nothing else, an engaging and entertaining public speaker with an interesting personal story. As he comes under more and more scrutiny, though, it seems clear that Cain just isn’t going to last, and that if it comes down to a contest between him and Romney then it’s entirely possible this race could be over by February.

Douthat continues, pointing out that Romney’s seeming inevitability is due largely to the fact that the GOP has yet to come to terms with the failures of the past decade:

It is a rather extraordinary turn of events. But when you have eliminated the impossible, as Sherlock Holmes told Watson, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. This rule holds for presidential contests as well as for whodunits: Romney is improbable, but his rivals are impossible, and so he will be the nominee.

What’s more, Republicans have only themselves to blame for his inevitability. Romney owes his current position to two failures: the Bush era’s serial disasters, which left the Republican establishment without a strong bench of viable national politicians, and the Tea Party’s mix of zeal and naïveté, which has elevated cranks and frauds and future television personalities to the party’s presidential stage.

To date, neither the establishment nor the populists have come to terms with the failures of the last age of Republican dominance. And despite occasional flashes of creativity, neither has groped its way to a credible vision of what the next conservative era should look like.

What they have to offer instead is a largely opportunistic critique of a flailing liberal president. So it’s fitting that America’s most opportunistic politician is destined to be the standard-bearer for their cause.

This doesn’t necessarily bode well for the future. If Romney wins in 2012, which is entirely likely, he won’t have a united Republican Party behind him, at least not one united around anything other than “We’re Not Barack Obama.” The war between the “establishment” and the Tea Party will still be ongoing, perhaps intensified with a Republican control of the Senate. If he loses, then we’re in for four more years of GOP infighting of the type we’ve been seeing since 2008 which will lead to the same incentives, and the same actions, we’ve seen from the Republicans in Congress for the past two and a half years. In either case, it doesn’t seem that anyone in Washington will be prepared to deal with the problems facing the nation. This time, though, we’ll have less time to deal with them.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
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 contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Micahel says:

    Romney’s major weakness is that the establishment and the media want him so bad that they are giving him a pass and not asking the tough questions. Romney showed himself to be thinned-skinned during last debate, and if he can’t handle the scrutiny during the primary how does he expect to stand up to it when it really counts. Granted, he’s polished, but one thing that always raises my concern is a slick politician. If he wins the nomination, he’ll likely get my vote in the general election, but it has more to do with choosing the lesser of two evils than actually supporting him.

  2. Hey Norm says:

    “… If Romney wins in 2012, which is entirely likely…”

    This assumes a whole lot based on no evidence. Romney has been unable to muster support from any more than 1/4 of his party…a party that prefered McCain to him last go ’round. A base that seems to prefer Cain and an establishment that prefers Romney does not seem likely to congeal behind the “safe” candidate.
    This also seems to assume Obama doesn’t campaign. The corporate raider who is touting supply-side economics will be so easy to discredit it’s not even funny. The Romney-Rule will not look very populist compared to the Buffett-Rule. And do you really think Romneys dodge on Health Care reform will hold up under serious questioning from Obama’s team? No Republican candidate has yet asked Romney what he plans to do about the presently insured folks with pre-existig conditions, and young people on their parents coverage, etc.
    Then there’s the flip-flopping. Jake Tapper documented 5 different positions that Romney has held on Libya alone.
    And consider damage from the primaries. None have been held yet, and still Perry is drawing Romney into a very ugly primary battle, which is requiring Romney to commit to some of the crazy, which in turn is going to make it more difficult for Romney to pivot to a general election campaign.
    I think the story that deserves just as much attention, if not more, is what happens when

    “… Romney wins loses in 2012, which is entirely likely…”

    Will the so-called Republicans be able to see that their seismic shift to the extreme right in response to a centrist Democratic President was catastrophic? Or will they assume they have failed to shift far enough to the extreme and double-down on their insanity?

  3. superdestroyer says:

    @Micahel:

    The only thing people dislike more than a slick politician is a rough-around-the-edges politician.

    If Douthat understand that Romney will be the nominee, then he should also realize that Romney has no chance of beating President Obama. The only relevant questions for 2012 is how many seats do the Democrats pick up in the house and whether the Republicans can pick up any seats in the Senate.

    The worst thing about the election cycle is January 2013 will be the next time that policy and governance will be discussed instead of horse race politics.

  4. Eric Florack says:

    So much for the nonsense argument that the GOP is being controlled by the far right. Were that true, Romney the RINO would be nowhere near the front.

  5. ponce says:

    So much for the nonsense argument that the GOP is being controlled by the far right.

    Huh?

    Everybody knows the Republicans are controlled by the greedy rich.

    Always have been, always will be…

  6. michael reynolds says:

    Romney can quite possibly beat Obama.

    The enthusiasm issue is overstated for Romney and probably understated for Obama. The economy is better than it was when Obama came in, but that’s still not good, and the voters want a lot more.

    The problem Obama has in beating Romney is that even I think Romney would make an okay president. I’ll vote for Obama, but I won’t leave the country if Romney wins. And that’s not where Obama wants to be. He doesn’t want the choice to be between “meh” and “meh.” If it’s between two “mehs” people may decide to give the new “meh” a try.

  7. PJ says:

    Look at state polls, the states where Romney is in the lead are mostly liberal states and states with a large Mormon population.

    The media, the liberals, and the Mormons are going to pick the Republican nominee.

  8. Hey Norm says:

    @ Michael Reynolds….
    I think a general election campaign knocks Romney off the “meh” pedestal. The “he’s-just-to-slick” thing will only get amplified…turned up to 11. As for enthusiasm…can you name one outstanding thing about the guy? Every positive attribute comes with baggage. He’s a businessman…but there’s Bain. He was a governor…but there’s his health care reform problem. I do not see a solid winning issue for him…but as Doug points out we’ll probably get to see.
    As for the economy…talk to me mid-summer about that.
    I do agree with you…he doesn’t make me want to move to Canada…but that may be a negative for the silly people with tea bags dangling from their tri-corns.

  9. john personna says:

    I think it’s funny to watch “anybody but Romney” play out, while some still insist there is no “anyone but Romeny.”

    As to who would win, Romney v. Obama … a lot depends on the campaigns they each have planned, and the timing of their respective messages. I’m sure they have penciled in what they want as their message in February and as their message in August. Those will unfold with a lot of black swans possible, in domestic and world events.

  10. If Romney is the nominee then that just shows how much the Republican primary voter really wants the government out of people’s lives. Pro-abortion, pro-state health care, pro-“patriot” act among other things, yep that some liberty right there.

  11. Tano says:

    there’s no reason to believe that Mitt Romney won’t be the Republican nominee in 2012.

    I don’t know what will happen, but here is one good reason why Romney might not be the nominee.
    Despite leading in most polls, he never seems to get much more than 25% support from Republicans. So long as there is a crowded field, this puts him in the lead. But despite the long train of wannabes who fail to dislodge him, he never seems to expand his support level. If it comes down to Romney vs. one surviving Tea Party candidate, it is not at all clear that Romney can get up to 50%.

  12. Scott O. says:

    @PJ:

    The media, the liberals, and the Mormons are going to pick the Republican nominee.

    That’s right and we’re giving you Romney. Bwa ha ha ha ha.

  13. PJ says:

    @Tano:

    Despite leading in most polls, he never seems to get much more than 25% support from Republicans.

    So not true.
    The conservative Republicans in Massachusetts are giving him 50% (63% in two way race with Perry (and a I don’t know option)). And the right-wing Christians in Utah are giving him 63% (82% in a two way race with Huntsman (and a someone else/I don’t know option)).
    With that kind of support in Massachusetts and Utah, he surely is a lock-in.

    @Scott O.:

    That’s right and we’re giving you Romney. Bwa ha ha ha ha.

    I believe the liberal media has done nothing but secret polling on Republican support in a general election for a Mormon candidate. And then they are only releasing the polls where the support is the highest.

    It’s time to listen to Admiral Ackbar: “It’s a Trap!”

    😉

  14. An Interested Party says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Perhaps its not so much about how people like you feel about Romney, but rather, what people like Eric Florack will do…will they hold their noses and vote for Romney, or will they simply stay home…

  15. michael reynolds says:

    @Hey Norm:
    I agree Romney has problems. The biggest may be that people just dont like him. 5 years running and his own party obviously just doesn’t like him. He’s the homely chick at the dance.

    People do tend to like Obama on a personal level. Obama has incumbency, he’s likable, people are interested in his story. But he’s got some big, big problems, too, namely 9% unemployment and a right track/wrong track trend that looks really bad. Obama’s best hope was to get a GOP candidate who fell into that “no way,” area, like Bachmann, Trump, Palin, Cain and now, increasingly, Perry.

    @An Interested Party:
    I would love to see some polling on the intensity of the anti-Mormon thing inside the GOP. My guess is that the people who really hate Mormons really hate black people even more. So my suspicion is the GOP can run on Obama-hatred and get past the Mormon thing, at least for the most part.

  16. An Interested Party says:

    If Romney wins the GOP nomination, perhaps 2012 will be a repeat of 2004, with the candidates trading places in terms of their respective political parties…

  17. Linton says:

    @ Michael Reynolds: “My guess is that the people who really hate Mormons really hate black people even more.”

    I don’t think it’s his race, but when it comes to Obama, his most virulent critics would probably vote for any hypothetical Republican who was an atheist/muslim/some other non-Christian belief before voting for him. The funny thing is that there is far more daylight between the actual religious views of so called “values voters” and Romney than there is between them and Obama (although I guess that assumes one believes Obama is a Christian, which I do).

    Still, the voters that care that much about religious views want a president who actively fights to ban things they find sinful and finds ways to provide a more visible public forum for them to display their beliefs. Obama definitely isn’t their guy on this, but Romney is at least slightly more willing to give lip service to this.

    An interesting alternate reality hypothetical would be to see if “values voters” would actually consider a Democrat who was anti gay marriage/anti don’t ask don’t tell repeal/pro life over a GOP candidate with so-called moderate views on these issues. Or would fiscal views win out in the end?

  18. PJ says:

    @michael reynolds:
    The Gallup poll in June on the willingness to vote for a Mormon had the Republican numbers at 80-18. (Margin of Error +/- 5%)
    The CNN poll about if voters would be more or less likely to vote for a Mormon has the Republican Numbers at (5-81-14) (More/Doesn’t Matter/Less) (Margin of Error +/- 6%).
    Both polls show a lot less support for a Mormon candidate among Democrats (in contrast, in 2007 support was higher among liberals and moderates than conservatives.)

    Now, I doubt you will ever see a poll that would ask voters whom they hate the most; Mormons or black people…

  19. Ben Wolf says:

    @Micahel:

    If he wins the nomination, he’ll likely get my vote in the general election, but it has more to do with choosing the lesser of two evils than actually supporting him.

    What aspect of Romney do you consider the lesser evil?

  20. Ben Wolf says:

    @An Interested Party: Eric will vote for any Republican nominee. Period.

  21. An Interested Party says:

    Eric will vote for any Republican nominee. Period.

    Ahh…that would make him a rank hypocrite and a serial liar…

  22. A voice from another precinct says:

    @Linton: My take is that the GOP–“social” conservative, tea party radical, libertarian anarchist, anti-muslim, country club, or any other flavor– vote their wallets only. In much the same way that, when I was younger, many democrats would have voted for Stalin or Hiler running as a Democrat, present day conservatives would vote for Ghaddafi (were he sitll alive) or Bashir Assad if he were running as a Republican and promised a tax cut.

  23. anjin-san says:

    Everybody knows the Republicans are controlled by the greedy rich.

    bithead thinks he is driving the bus – he does not realize he is just another useful idiot pushing it.

  24. de stijl says:

    I have a very strange analogy that occurred to me about two weeks ago when Perry started cratering, but it is stuck in my head, so I may as well share. (This will only make sense to old-school Simpsons fans)

    The Republican base really, really wants Bonestorm for Christmas.

    They even told Mom “Buy me Bonestorm or go to Hell!” But chances are looking slim: none of the demos they’ve played so far (Trump, Bachmann, Perry, and now Cain) really deliver the awesomeness that bad-ass Santa promised them in the ad.

    It’s really starting to look like Mom who holds the pursestrings is gonna buy them Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge (in the person of Romney) instead of the platonic ideal of right-wing catharsis that Bonestorm would provide.

    The question remains: how many will dutifully accede and play Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge as it was meant to be played and how many will select “Three Wood” and set the swing force to “Power Drive” and jack it into the parking lot out of spite / boredom?

    The one big problem with the analogy is that there is no Bonestorm.

    Ignoring the fact that a Bonestorm candidate would be hard pressed to win the general election, no candidate or potential candidate embodies that true spirit of unrestrained id. Maybe Joe Arpaio.

    Sorry for the weirdness – I’ve been up since 0415 and I’m all jacked up on Irish Breakfast tea.

  25. de stijl says:

    @A voice from another precinct:

    I’m interested why you see simple tribalism in Democratic votes, but economic / tax issues as the driver for Republican votes.

    I’d argue that tribalism is as, if not more. prevalent amongst R voters. Tax cuts are the signifier, but the goal is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women.

    Hell, one of esteemed hosts can post a thoughtful and insightful analysis of Republican candidates rhetoric on the Federal judiciary and the implications thereof, and then hippie punch in his follow up comments just because he apparently can’t help himself.

    I’m certainly not immune – I’m a smidge to the left of a Rockefeller Republican but nowadays I’d rather castrate myself than vote R because, well, they’re freaking lunatics. Dickish lunatics. Thankfully, the D’s are basically Rockefeller Republicans now so I don’t have feel like a jagoff for pulling the lever for them.

  26. James Joyner says:

    @PJ: Actually, we had one four years ago. See “Black President More Likely than Mormon or Atheist.”

    Only 5 percent admitted they wouldn’t vote for a black for president, compared to 24 percents who wouldn’t vote for a Mormon. About the only thing worse was a homosexual (43 percent) or an atheist (53 percent).

  27. Wayne says:

    Romney could very well get the nomination. However anyone who claims he is the inevitable nominee is just showing how their bias support of him is blinding them.

    Yes I know that it is pointless to try to have a reasonable discussion with someone who holds such a strong belief or faith in something or someone. They are simply not willing to consider anything that contradicts their beliefs. The Romney faithful will not believe he can be defeated until he is actually defeated. After which they will come up with some lame excuse.

  28. PJ says:

    @James Joyner:
    That’s the same Gallup poll that I’m referencing to. Thing is you can’t tell from the published result how the 5% who wouldn’t vote for a black candidate overlaps the 24% who won’t vote for a Mormon, and if they would be willing to vote for the Mormon candidate if that means that the black candidate would win. The second question you wouldn’t even know if you had the raw data.

  29. Joseph Juarez says:

    Attn: Ms. Saul
    Ms. Saul,
    do you even have an inckling of the malevolent economic mechanizations of the last Republican Presidential Administration?
    Gee, what exactly did they achieve?
    1. They found an excuse to boost production in the war for fun and profit sector.
    2. They managed to get us into yet another oil interest protection war. And by the way where exactly are those so called “WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION”
    3. look how the Republicans helped out America by eleminating regulations designed to keep Wall Street honest and the Home finance industry in cheque.
    So when the manure finally hits the fan it is spring 2009.
    And you have the gaul to state that the Obama Administration has more job losses to deal with than any other administration, as though it is President Obama’s fault?
    You must think American Voters are the stupidest people alive.

    We all know the processes that brought about the Loan crisis and Massive mortgage defaults started on Alan Greenspan’s watch.