Romney GOP Default Candidate?

Some analysts think Mitt Romney could back into the Republican nomination, reports CSM’s Linda Feldmann.

The latest polling out of states with the earliest nominating contests, which begin in a year, shows Mr. Romney in single digits. Even in neighboring New Hampshire, he comes in fourth, behind Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who won the New Hampshire primary in 2000, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

GOP Pack But in a week that saw Romney launch his presidential exploratory committee, allowing him to enter the all-important money race, the Republican field is fluid. Religious conservatives, a key GOP constituency, remain skeptical of Senator McCain. And his advocacy for a stepped-up US presence in Iraq has thrown his political future squarely in line with a war that few believe is going well.

Mr. Giuliani, well known for his 9/11 leadership, remains untested on the national political stage and holds liberal positions on social issues that put him at odds with many GOP primary voters (as well as a colorful personal life).

Speaker Gingrich has, for now, become a repository of support among conservatives, though his short tenure as speaker and his three marriages could cause him to wilt under the klieg lights.

Enter Romney: successful businessman, savior of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, with an attractive family. Having won the governorship of liberal Massachusetts as a moderate Republican in 2002, he then sought to remake his national image by adopting conservative positions on abortion, gay rights, and stem cells. But many Republicans remain leery. And among Evangelical conservatives, Romney’s Mormon faith can also be a hurdle.

Still, in the end, political analysts can see a clear path by which Romney becomes the GOP nominee, almost by default. Republicans “want to win in November [2008],” says Ed Sarpolus, an independent pollster in Michigan who dismisses Gingrich’s and Giuliani’s chances. “If McCain self-destructs because of Iraq, even in New Hampshire they’ll hold their nose and vote for Mitt Romney.”

While Giuliani is my favorite, all of four face serious obstacles to the nomination.

I continue to think Gingrich the least plausible of the major candidates, despite being the most energizing speaker and innovative thinker in the field. While a sleazy background is not insurmountable–Bill Clinton got elected twice, after all–it is incredibly problematic among a primary electorate dominated by Christian conservatives.

McCain and Giuliani are rock stars but their conservative bona fides are in doubt. McCain has the additional problem of being too old; he’d almost certainly be a one termer. Giuliani’s divorces are a problem, although not as much as they would have been in the past. Romney’s Mormonism, as I’ve noted previously, is highly problematic.

Ultimately, I think 9/11 inoculates Giuliani from many of his problems with the base. To some degree, everything that happened before has been cleansed by the perception that he was a heroic leader in the aftermath. Being tough on crime and terrorism may well be enough to get him past the questions on the social issues, especially since it’s pretty obvious Roe won’t be overturned and the tide is turning on such hot button issues as gay rights.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. My objection to Romney has not been about his Mormonism or his conservatism, but rather can he win. I don’t see him carrying any state Bush didn’t win in 2000/2004 and having a good chance to lose some. McCain and especially Rudy have a decent chance of expanding the states in play without significantly endangering the 2000/2004 states in the Bush column. Gingrich himself notes that his strategy is to wait until labor day in 2007 to enter. If a clear favorite isn’t apparent by then, he might get in.

    Finally, I really wonder about the dark horse candidate. I remember Carter coming out of no where to win the nomination in 76. Like Obama, people knew so little about him the could project what they wanted to see. Can that sort of dark horse appearing the days of 24 hour news channels and blogs?

  2. jason says:

    Romney’s greatest strength is his ability.

    He has more raw talent than the rest of the field combined. He was able to turn around a troubled deficit economy into a strong surplus- without a tax raise.

    He has fought successfully for traditional marriage, as seen through his recent successes with the state legislature.

    Romney has more charisma than all the others and is no doubt the most articulate voice for conservatism.

  3. John S of Maine says:

    I know there wont be any nose holding in my family as we all will be voting for Mitt Romney. He is by far the most affable, personable, honest, caring, intelligent, and electable Republican Candidate. Mitt has the right bled of experience and Education to be a great President!

  4. Keith says:

    I personally think Giuliani has the best shot out of the bunch, though I must admit I don’t feel America is really going to be able to handle another Republican for a little while after the damage this administration has done to this country. Giuliani managed to make alot of people like him during the time right after 9/11, and branding isn’t something he’ll need to work on as he is already a household name.

  5. floyd says:

    “”I don’t feel America is really going to be able to handle another Republican for a little while after the damage this administration has done to this country.””

    kieth; whether this statement is right or wrong, it may not keep the democrats from once again forcing a republican into office.

  6. Christopher says:

    Keith: You are a typical unintelligent liberal.

    Plus you can’t even spell “a lot” correctly.

  7. Wayne says:

    I hope there is a good GOP Governor out there that is not on the radar yet that will end up winning.