Why Mitt Romney Is Stronger Than You Think
Republican leaders seem resigned to a second Obama term. Here's why it's no slam dunk.
Ezra Klein pushes back against the gloom and doom so many Republicans, including “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough, feel about the inevitable nomination of Mitt Romney. Klein’s argument is long but built around four key points:
— The recovery might falter.
— Romney is an underrated politician.
— Romney is unsuited for the primary but suited for the general.
— Romney might go for it.
The last of these, that Romney might decide to go for broke and embrace a truly bold set of policy proposals to shake up the race, strikes me as the least likely. The second and third are almost surely right and most analysts say that the current economic uptick is a mere blip.
Beyond this, though, the more fundamental factor in Romney’s favor is the degree to which the country is divided. Even a Rick Santorum would win a significant number of states. While he’s by no means exciting, Romney isn’t scary and he’s likely to poll within four or five points of the president even if the economy continues to hum along; it’ll be much closer, and perhaps tip the other way, if there’s even a modest dip.
I’ve noted time and again over the past 18 months or so that Obama is likely to be re-elected simply because re-electing the president is America’s default position. And Obama is likable, decent, and otherwise doing nothing to upset that inertia. But the combination of a weak economy, a decent opponent, and the continuing “50-50” political mood means it’ll be a close call.
How many people know the back-story to “and who knows, the horse may sing?”
The Caliph, the Grand Vizier, and the Donkey
It’s a Sufi fable.
Yes, and a good one.
Sometimes staying in the game, even with long odds, is worse than the alternative. Rick Santorum looked like he was waiting for his horse to sing, but got side-tracked and split his own base instead. Mitt’s advisers may not see a current path to victory, but they could (should) be giving that horse its lessons every day.
Sometimes staying in the game, even with long odds, is [better!!!] than the alternative.
I do think it will be close.
I think the Romney advisor’s moment of honest re: Etch-a-Sketch is basically true. There are a ton of likely voters out there who pay no attention whatsoever to the primaries and who will lap up the re-re-packaged Romney who will now pose as a centrist after having posed as a “severe” conservative. I know people who will fall for that hook, line and sinker.
Basically, a major party nominee is gonna get at least 45% of the vote, absent a Perot-like 3rd party challenge. That’s the floor. It’s like getting SAT points for writing your name.
I think people overestimate how underrated Romney is as a politician. It will be close, but only because thencountry is so polarized, but even there, Romney doesn’t excite the base. He may well be another Bob Dole, except without the sense of humor.
Also, do you know who else wasn’t stiff once you unzip him? Bob Dole.
@Rob in CT: people may not be paying attention, but there is so much video that it will be very hard to run away from his previous positions without feeding into the claims that Romney is entirely unprincipled and panders to everyone on everything.
Now there’s an election strategy, let’s hope for the absolute worst to happen to the economy…
Really? With all the gaffes and flip-flops he’s made so far in the primary campaign? Underrated compared to whom…
This certainly seems to be true, but there such a rich treasure trove of material from the primary season to bring up during the general election campaign…
As James noted, this is unlikely, and even if Romney were to attempt to do this, going in either a liberal direction (which would make the base stay home and give even more proof to the flip-flop/Etch-A-Sketch meme) or a conservative direction (alienate moderates and independents) probably wouldn’t help him too much…
I’d love to believe that.
Most analysts say the current economic uptick is a mere blip? Obviously you’re hoping JJ but I think not.The March employment numbers are out tomorrow but we’ve had three previous months with average job growth of over 250,000 a month and as they say the trend is your friend even if there is a minor downtick. As to close call it depends on what you mean. Certainly the country is narrowly divided but Romney has a record fave/unfave gap; a huge gender gap; is pulling only 14% of the hispanic vote; and in that Gallup poll is being beaten 51 to 42 in the 12 swing states. As to whether he is scary or not quite a lot of people seem to have decided he is and Obama has hardly begun to hang the Republican agenda around his neck. Pure speculation of course but I’ll join the parlor game and suggest that Obama will win at least the same share of the popular vote as last time although not necessarily any more EC votes.
I’m with Joe on this one. You’d be hard pressed at this point to find an economist who still doubts this recovery. Second dip fears faded, eurozone contagion fears faded, greek default fears faded.
What have we got at this point? That gas might creep higher as houses creep lower? Sure, but there isn’t wide impact that this will impact the broader economy.
Indeed most people are grounded by news like this:
U.S. Jobless Claims Drop to 357,000; Lowest in 4 Years
(Not to say that what the Greeks did was not “default,” I think it was, but the fallout was been much, much (much) less than pundits predicted.)
To which you could add auto sales projections of 14 million plus. I know I’m old fashioned but I worked in that industry for a long time and you do not sell over 14 million autos in recession conditions. The drags on the economy are housing and pressured state budgets but otherwise just about every other leading indicator is pointing up. There’s always the black swans of course but that aside JJ is out to lunch. Btw I meant to link to that Gallup swing state poll in my earlier comment.
Gustopher is correct. Too much video history to overcome. Perhaps if he didn’t already have the perception of being a flip flopper, he may be able to pivot to the middle, but not this time, not this candidate.
It will be a series of John Kerry like ads which will doom Mitt as much as they doomed Kerry.
As stated by RobnCT, Mitt will get 45% just for showing up.
The economy will be the only issue Obama need be concerned about and the recent trends seem to be a slow, gradual uptick, not a slide back into a recession.
An attack on Iran.
@Brummagem Joe: @john personna: I’m just echoing Klein’s point:
I’m neither hoping for nor predicting doom. I’m just saying it seems to be a short-term blip rather than a roaring, sustainable recovery.
The USNews polling operation (on 4/04) published a survey of Americans who either had or planned to vote in Repub primaries. Mr Romney “excited” only 11% or respondents and “dissatisfied” or “angered” 39%. Only 33% of them thought he is a “conservative” while 60% identified him as a “liberal” or “moderate”.
It gets worse. 55% think Mr Romney “says what he thinks people want to hear” but only 35% feel his statements reflect his true beliefs.
When we think back to the ’10 midterms and the Repub ‘wave’, does this make anyone predict that Mr Romney can tap that energy? It seems to me that given reasonable economic numbers over the next 7 or 8 months and a decently run campaign that Joe Scarborough and the “Republican establishment” that he has been talking to have it right. No one should expect Mr Romney to win.
Of course, that’s why Rice plays Texas. So no Democrat should be complacent.
So…um…he’s been hiding his skills for the 7 years that he has been running for President?
He has won exactly one race in his entire political career.
He lost a Senate race to Kennedy at his weakest point.
He didn’t run for a 2nd term as Governor because he knew he would lose.
He lost to McCain, who then lost to Obama in a landslide.
To date, in this cycle, he has been gaffe-prone than Biden at his worst.
I don’t think Obama has it in hand…and certainly unforseen circumstance could rear it’s head at any moment. But your rationalizations seem to be the thin rationalizations of an admitted advocate.
No one is saying it’s a roaring recovery but contrary to what Klein says the emerging consensus is for a slow but sustained recovery. And after all Klein also make three other highly suspect assertions.
2008 was not a wave election. Turnout at 80 million was nearly 40% down fron 2008.
Hard pressed? Hardly. Just a few links from Business Insider that showed up the last week or so:
Why the Economy is Doomed (aka Why Nobody wants to move their company here)
Threat of a double-dip recession remains
the infamous Surprise Index indicator
And I can’
And, for those that still cling to the jobless numbers what the jobless numbers are really saying at this point in the cycle
Granted, there are those that insist things will just continue to get better. but not nearly as many as one would expect. There is still a very real chance that things will tank badly this summer. But, as much as I would like to, I cannot place the blame on our President.
Congress — both parties — and Europe will do it.
There are different things there, between “roaring” and “sustainable,” and the distinction is important.
All the data I’m watching show something sustainable. The charts at Calculated Risk are good for showing our progress.
… and “analysts predict a slowdown” is about as convincing as “analysts predict wide fallout from Greek default.” They just are not that good.
I think we are back to wanting that horse to sing, for something unlikely to pop in and save the day (from a narrow political perspective, to be sure!!!)
(At a guess, your sources are about 2-3 months behind the curve, JJ)
Ooops, been moderated. Looks like I tripped an “anti-spam” filter.
I can believe that Obama could lose the race but I have a hard time believing that Romney could win it.
Please show me even a single person who has predicted or said we are in a “roaring” recovery. You are making crap up. We are not going back to 2005 boom times, and everybody knows it. That’s a good thing, as it was an unsustainable credit driven bubble. A reasonable level of steady, sustainable growth is what we need, and we have made a lot of progress in that direction.
I work with entrepreneurs every day, some with long track records of success. The vibe I get from them is that we have turned the corner on the economy, and they are cautiously optimistic about both short and long term economic prospects. That is a vast, huge improvement from the economic freefall that Bush left on Obama’s desk.
@ John D’Geek
Impressive links. The CEO of JP Morgan opposes regulation of the financial industry. A guy who makes his living selling books about economics has an article with a hyperbolic title. An analyst thinks there “may be” a shot term pullback in the stock market.
Come back when you have something a bit more solid.
Can’t really disagree, but I’d be curious to see how convincing Romney “Corporations are people, my friends” will be on the economy. My sense is that by default he’s going to be criticizing the president’s policies more than selling his own. It’s not exactly a lemon Romney’s got, but it is an older vehicle that has some cosmetic damage and is going to need some work.
My take on James’ bullets is:
– The recovery may indeed falter, but time is running out. Paul Krugman has made the point that our exports to Europe are a small percentage of GDP. If the EU goes south, it would hurt us, but probably make Obama look even better by comparison to Europe than he does now.
– Romney is underrated as a politician and is better suited to the general. He’s been clearly uncomfortable about having to lie to the conservative base. He will be much better when it comes time to lie to independents.
– I believe Romney thinks he went big by signing onto the Ryan budget. Does anybody really expect that to help in the general?
I’d be more worried about:
– Iran could blow up, but I think that would put people in a ‘don’t change horses’ mood.
– Iraq might blow up. But Iraq is becoming even more remote from peoples concerns every day.
– Obama could make some huge, fatal gaffe. But how likely is that from ‘No Drama’?
– The real concern is simply that Romney will be able to outspend Obama. I would expect Romney’s campaign and associated PACs to outspend Obama 1.5 or even 2:1. But the primaries seem to show that’s not enough.
@gVOR08: Oops, sorry. Ezra’s bullets, not James’.
Niall Ferguson….are you serious? He’s a major economic joke. You might want to review his prediction record. The only one that’s worse is Kevin (Dow 36,000) Hassett at AEI.
“He’s been clearly uncomfortable about having to lie to the conservative base. He will be much better when it comes time to lie to independents.”
Killer line gVOR08 !!!!
Based on your choices … for God’s sake buy index funds and do not trust yourself to pick market or economy watchers.
(Reading Barry Ritholtz for six months would be a growth experience. )
Actually the one from Barton Biggs was pretty bullish. And yep Mr D’Geek should stay well away from Ameritrade.
Economic forecasters are frequently wrong, especially at turning points. They are too optimistic going into a recession, and too pessimistic coming out of one. If we’re starting a genuine recovery, then analysts are probably underestimating growth. Since there do not seem to be any signs of a returning recession, this is probably the case.
Not so much!
I think Romney feels he is very cleverly running a campaign that he knows will work because it worked for the last few decades — go hard right in the primary, then tack to the center for the general. But I don’t believe that tactic can work anymore. The internet, and the instant availablity of hundreds of video clips from the primary, makes it impossible to deny you were ever the primary guy. Romney’s going to get hit with every hard right thing he ever said.
It can’t. I’m sure Plouffe has the Etch a Sketch locked and loaded. The Republicans (and this is basically JJ’s thesis) think they’ve averted a disaster by nominating Romney because he’s not scary. In fact he’s starting off with worse fave/ unfave ratings than any candidate in living memory. They think this is going to have no downstream effect on the congressional elections whereas if turnout is roughly the same as 2008 and the Republicans can’t turn out 60 million to suppor Romney they are potentially looking as some very ugly scenarios. It’s way too early to predict this but it’s certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility.
Here’s Romney’s strength…having it both ways at the same time:
“…I’d be willing to consider the president’s plan, but he doesn’t have one. That’s right: In over three years, he has failed to enact or even propose a serious plan to solve our entitlement crisis,” Romney said in a speech to the Newspaper Association of America in Washington, D.C. “Instead, he has taken a series of steps that end Medicare as we know it. He is the only president to ever cut $500 billion from Medicare. And, as a result, more than half of doctors say they will cut back on treating seniors…”
See…the President has no plan…and that non-existent plan has cut billions from Medicare.
When you can fool intelligent people like James Joyner with hooey like this…your jui-jitsu is strong indeed.
I was impressed by the randomness of the links more than anything .. maybe I should back up and suggest that anyone could benefit from a read of the classic, the first Taleb book, Fooled by Randomness.
It’s too easy for random predictions to capture the public attention, and shockingly rare that anyone even notices how wrong they were. As Taleb says, “do over’s” are granted daily.
Yes, forecasters flock like birds. They are more interested in being near their neighbors that most people realize.
But JJ is what hypnotists call a receptive subject.
The wonder of google…he had a preformed idea and was looking for material(not too carefully) to support it.
One more reason. Something that happens in basketball a lot…the tenancy for some refs to “ref” the scoreboard.
The media is invested in having some drama. They managed to present Newt and Rick (among others) were viable contenders with a shot. They appeared to me to give heavy preference to polls that showed it a close race. Mitt will begin appearing stronger very soon, I reckon.
Where I see the biggest problem for him is with women. Just anecdotal, from our office gals….this doesn’t appear to me to be a trial separation from the GOP, it looks more like a bloody divorce. At least right at this moment.
Sure the media are interested in a horse race because it sells more newspapers or pushes up viewership. That’s one of the reasons I’m somewhat suspicious of some of these polls. That said when polling numbers are very stark it’s hard to deny them as with that Gallup poll in swing states which I’m reasonably sure is a fairly accurate reflection of reality right now. It could change for the better of course but equally it could change for the worse once the Obama campaign really gets rolling. JJ’s basic thesis is that while Obama is likely to be re-elected Romney will be saved from a wipe out by tribalism. He may be right but on the whole there are more downsides to Romney’s candidacy than upsides. He’s going to be better candidate than Santorum certainly but if tribalism is the determining factor that would work equally well for Santorum wouldn’t it?
Romney’s about a C+ or maybe a B- general election (non-incumbent) candidate.
Definitely looks “presidential.” Was a state governor. No built-in high negative ratings, a la Palin or Hillary Clinton. Speaks in a commanding voice. Not a bomb throwing ideologue, although of course he’s had to drift way too far to the right in connection with this farce of a GOP primary.
Mormon. Can’t overstate the importance of that. Millions of evangelical Christians will sit out the Nov. election. Weather vane mentality. Stilted and aloof. Presents like a guy who’s been coached since birth. Personality somewhat akin to a male Stepford Wife. Massachusetts is a tough sell in a national general election. Doesn’t have natural charisma. Everything appears forced and rehearsed.
Perhaps not built in, but still clearly high…
In other words, another John Kerry…
A conservative’s dissent of Klein’s argument…
The short version is this; what this boils down to is the question of whether Obama is going to look so bad as to make Romney look good.
four years ago, I might have suggested that Romney had a chance. These days with so much of our discussion college to terms of race as opposed to culture in the skin color as opposed to actual politics, I wonder.
darn dictation needs recalibration again
Here we are in April, and the usual suspects are placing their bets on the outcome of the election in November. It’s a fun game, but there are so very many disturbing events possible between now and seven months from now, that there is little to gain in making a prediction, except of course, the “inevitability tactic” of touting your selection over and over in hope of influencing the outcome. Impovrished thinkers long to back a winner. So declare one for them!
The economy and job growth can well stagnate over the Summer and into the Fall, after the pent up customer demand of the last years is exhausted. Oil prices may well become intolerable to swallow, etc. and the real job loss of 11% to 18% can turn against the imcumbent. Even now, some see through the highly touted figure of 8.2% to the reality.
The chorus of accusations against Obama will become much louder; his narcissicism; lies; bending the Constitution out of shape; etc. coming to a boil. Watch for more and more books accusing Obama of leading the nation into chaos and backing the accusations up with long lists of facts. Conservatives will pay attention, while progressives will try to drown out the chorus of facts with sly and subverting stories.
The Middle East can easily explode into yet another conflict, with Israel making a decision to attack Iran; Syria becoming even worse; and the public reacting unfavorably to the administration’s support for Palestine at the expense of Israel. There are many opportunities here in the foreign field for Obama to stub his toe badly and thereby forfit his reelection.
The administration’s stealth executive order approach to allowing illegal immigrants to remain in country by fiat does not sit well with many citizens, and that will be publicized heavily.
Then, too, Obama himself can hinder his own bid for reelection by words and actions that alienate many voters, not unlike his description of the right, which was contemptuously to the effect that they clutch the Bible in one hand and a rifle in the other. Or, his message to Putin that he would have “more flexibility” after he is reelected. Indeed! One hope he finds himself out of a job.
This distortion again? Really?
Better luck next time…
Some hopes…hopes that the economy will get really bad…hopes for a foreign crisis…hopes for anything, no matter how awful, no matter how harmful to anyone…hopes for anything that will help Mitt Romney beat the President…keep hope alive…
@An Interested Party:
Nice try at twisting my words, The only hope I referred to was the total demise of Obama from the political scene, along with his assorted lefties, czarlets, and appointees, en masse!
Yes, he had to apologize somewhat obliquely for his remark, which actually confirms its potency. So ragtag, late-coming and dedicated apologists for him are well behind the curve. A gaffe is a gaffe, for one thing, and an insult is an insult for another. The people have long memories for what they perceive as a blatant insult, regardless of the attempted smoothovers by the faithful.
It will not be forgotten by a large number of voters, just as his stealth amnesty will haunt his reelection.
@mannning: No wonder you dream up all the Iran War scenarios, what with your rather vivid imagination…so sorry, but I do believe you are going to be disappointed in November…
@An Interested Party:
Yes, well, it has been a dreary and depressing three years plus, with progressivism and spending running wild, and there is a chance for it to descend to a really miserable four more of the same, or even worse, but I am praying to God that it will be a rousing Republican victory in November. May sanity return to the public!
In fact, I would settle for simply a Republican Congress, except I cannot stand the idea of more and more lies, Executive Orders, speeches and bows from him…
So you think that EMP scenario is too imaginative? All we have to do is wait a little longer to know for sure.
@mannning: If you’re talking about someone using a nuclear device to attempt an EMP attack then yes you’re scenario is utterly ridiculous. The only people with the delivery capability required to properly EMP attack us are already our friends or friendly. Any country attempting such an attack would without a doubt be turned into a parking lot in retaliation. An EMP attack with a set of nukes would look like a regular attack and would be responded to in extreme force.
You seem to have lost the thread, matt. Israel does have the full capability to deliver an EMP attack on Iran, which was the scenario I referred to. This is far from rediculous; it is quite feasible to accomplish. I never have suggested an EMP attack on the US by anyone, and I do not know where you got that notion from. I did suggest that Iran might threaten Israel with an EMP attack some years from now, along with a nuke destructive attack, and that this threat is of great concern to Israel.
In either of these two cases, I seriously doubt whether any third party would make silicon out of the presumed initiator. Or, are you suggesting that the US would actually hit Iran with Nukes if they had hit Israel? I really do doubt that.
@mannning: There is no threat. Israel has enough nukes itself to pave most if not all of Iran. Iran isn’t ran by a bunch of idiots and as such their actions are quite rational. Despite the Arabs and the Persians having a long history killing each other the Arabs are still more afraid of Israel then Iran..
The Israel lobby has such a stranglehold on this nation I wouldn’t doubt it. You cannot even talk about minor cuts in some of the billions in weapon systems we send to Israel without being labeled an anti-Semite..