The Man They Plan to Marry

Politico’s Roger Simon makes a very smart point about tomorrow’s caucus in Iowa:

If Mitt Romney wins the Iowa caucuses, the race for the Republican nomination is over. If Mitt Romney comes in second in Iowa, the race for the Republican nomination is over.

And if Mitt Romney comes in third in Iowa, the race for the Republican nomination is over.

If there is anything that you should keep in mind as we wait for Iowans to make their choice in the Republican nomination contest, it’s that Mitt Romney will be the nominee. The only question is how it happens, and that depends on tomorrow’s outcome in Iowa.

Given the far-right conservatism of the GOP base, this doesn’t seem like it should be true. “We’re talking about a French-speaking Mormon vulture capitalist named Willard, who used to support abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, ”amnesty“ for undocumented immigrants, and combating climate change,” writes Steve Benen for The Washington Monthly. If Republicans are judging their choices on the basis of ideology, then there’s no way that Romney passes muster within the Republican Party.

But the truth is that—outside of a few issues, like immigration— Republicans aren’t actually evaluating the candidates on the basis of fealty to a particular agenda. Take Iowa, for instance; aside from their opposition to the Obama administration, the leading candidates—Romney, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum—share little in common. Romney is a candidate of the Republican establishment, Paul is an avatar of paleo-libertarians, and Santorum is running as a representative of the religious right. If Republicans were focused solely on ideology, this wouldn’t happen.

That’s not to say that anyone would pass muster; a candidate needs to be sufficiently conservative. But once that bar is met, Republicans are most concerned with finding someone who can Barack Obama, and Mitt Romney—with nearly a decade of campaigning behind him—is best positioned to do that. Indeed, even if you aren’t thrilled with the former Massachusetts governor as a conservative, you can trust that he will run a competent campaign, which is something you can’t say for any of his competitors.

This fact, that Republicans want to beat Obama, is why you shouldn’t expect Romney to falter in states like South Carolina. When forced to choose between a firebrand who might lose, and an establishment figure that stands to win, South Carolina Republicans will always choose the latter.

Mitt Romney isn’t popular and he isn’t exciting, but he’s a safe choice, and that—more than anything else—will carry him to the nomination.

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