Thus far, I’ve been convinced that Republicans will rally around Mitt Romney if and when he wins the nomination. The former Massachusetts governor might not be popular with Republican voters, but Barack Obama is the most hated figure in the GOP, and unity is necessary if Republicans want a shot at taking the White House.
But the latest Pew poll suggests division within Republican ranks; in a general-election contest between Obama and Romney, 75 percent of Romney supporters in the primary say that they would back the former governor “strongly.” Among Santorum supporters, that number drops to 55 percent. On the other end, in the unlikely event of an Obama-Santorum matchup, the former Pennsylvania senator could count on strong support from 83 percent of followers, while only 47 percent of Romney supporters say that they would strongly back Santorum. In fact, 20 percent of Romney supporters say that they would vote for Obama if Santorum is the nominee.
There is always some division during a presidential primary, but this is more than usual; in the 2008 Democratic primary, for example, only 12 percent of Obama supporters said they wouldn’t back Clinton, and only 17 percent of Clinton supporters said they wouldn’t back Obama. Of course, when the general election actually came, 89 percent of Democrats voted for Barack Obama.
I still expect the same for Mitt Romney, though this ups the odds of Jonathan Bernstein’s nightmare scenario: Romney wins the most delegates, Santorum wins the most states, and Republicans are stuck with a crisis of legitimacy, with both sides absolutely opposed to the other.