Romney's Endgame

Mitt Romney’s ambitions for the 2012 primary have never been mysterious. He’s in it to win it, and with a weak field, the primaries should have been a mere prelude to his coronation. Things haven't worked out that way.

First there was Rick Perry in September, a chiseled Texan with conservative cred, undone by his inability to list more than two government agencies at a prime-time debate. Herman Cain, charismatic and entertainingly unpredictable, was finally brought down by a raft of sexual harassment-allegations in October. After the South Carolina primary, Newt Gingrich took the lead, but Gingrich couldn’t overcome his own reputation and inability to be likeable. Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator with antiquated social views, seemed destined to sit on the bench the whole primary season, but has suddenly been catapulted to the front of the pack because of his appeal to the most conservative edge of the party.
When facing the first few challengers, Romney wasn’t worried. He kept his campaign message focused on the general election. The media’s take on the GOP primary has remained in fast-forward mode, too; of course Romney was the inevitable nominee—the GOP base just needed to get on board.

However, the media couldn’t predict how bad a candidate Romney would be. His off-hand comments on wealth and inequality are cringe-worthy, and his debate performances, campaign speeches, grassroots efforts, and singing ability are serviceable at best. Although he picked up wins in New Hampshire, Florida, and Nevada, his conservative brother-in-arms’ solid wins in the South and the Midwest show that he still has a long way to go. A race that supposedly ended in the fall looks as though it might sputter all the way to the convention in August, and Romney actually needs to stop planning his general election strategy and start fighting to protect his inevitable candidacy.

The biggest weapon in Romney’s arsenal is cash, which is the best card to hold when facing a potentially glacial primary fight. Romney will repeat his Florida strategy of blasting the airwaves with more ads than his opponents in Michigan, Super Tuesday, and beyond. He can also afford far more staff than Santorum, although he hasn’t invested much money in bolstering his campaign’s ground game. All Romney needs to stay at the front of the pack is a string of wins that give him a sustained burst of momentum, and when primary contests become a multi-state affair as the race wears on, Romney is the only candidate with the funds to set up campaign offices and spend money on ads on multiple fronts.

Romney’s biggest problem is that he hasn’t found his base, and that he can’t steal social conservatives from Santorum or Gingrich. And as Zeke Miller pointed out on Wednesday, being able to outspend other candidates may not always be an option. Over 82 percent of Romney’s 2011 fundraising came in amounts over $1,000, which means that the 1 percent well is running dry. Santorum, on the other hand, has seen his fundraising gain as much momentum as his poll numbers after his recent primary sweep.

But Santorum’s threat to Romney has probably been overstated, too. If Romney’s campaign has been running on cruise control, Santorum’s campaign is the Flinstones’ car—the social conservative’s campaign does not have the infrastructure to transition to the big leagues yet, and if the money runs out his campaign will be done. Santorum’s platform is also troublesome, and his social-issues-heavy, economics-lite stump speeches may hit a wall when he challenges Romney in bigger and more moderate states.

Although the Michigan primary on February 28 is being set up as a game changer, it won't be. Even if Santorum wins—and that's looking increasingly likely—the basic dynamics of the race will stay the same. While the rest of the candidates have dialed up the antics as though they were the cast of Jersey Shore, Romney is playing Survivor: Outwit, outplay, outlast. Once everyone else gets voted off the island, Romney thinks he will be the last one standing.  It’s not a strategy to fire up the base a la Obama 2008, but Romney will never be the fiercest candidate. He’s the GOP’s safe bet, and he knows it.


See Also:


Romney appears to be turning into the guy who won the nomination without winning the nomination. He may be the establishment candidate with all the money, however the clowns in DC and in the Laboratories of Democracy are so determined to take issue with whatever the President does, nationally, the Republican party is playing to Santorum's strengths and right into Obama's hands. Really, how many primaries in a row can Romney lose, or have retracted (Iowa, maybe Maine) before this inevitability thing falls away?

Romney won Maine, and in Iowa when Romney was thought to have "won" by a few votes, the Iowans said there was no "winner". Ask them why. Then with a new count and Santorum ahead by a few votes, the media said "Romney Lost," ???

I'm for Romney, am a Pre-Tea Party Conservative Republican, and think the assessment of which candidate is "Ahead" is flawed. Comparing the Florida Primary with a smaller state Caucus which has few votes and no delegates attached seems unfair and unequal in strength, in reality. Why not wait for that state to award delegates to count it? GO TEAM ROMNEY!

In Massachusetts, one difference was that the voting members of the Legislature voted for the Insurance bill with no bribery, sweetheart deals to get their votes by the Governor, and the members and the public were able to know what the bill said before they voted for it-----Big Differences with Obamacare worth talking about.

You are right about the difference. Romney had a much better set of lawmakers in the Massachusetts Legislature. Obama had to play the hand he was dealt and he played it well. If it took a lot of sweeteners to get Congress to do the right thing, then so be it.

If Romney is the Republican nominee, I am open to voting for him. I was a big Obama supporter in 2008. If its Romney, I'll follow the campaign and decide pretty late between Romney and Obama. I really like Ron Paul and if he was 10 years younger than he is, I think he would have had a great shot at the nomination. He's done a great service to the country just speaking out and delivering that message, especially the foreign policy message against these wars and bases all over the world and all the spending.

I cannot imagine voting for either Gingrich or Santorum and the author of this article is, IMO, wrong to believe that the Santorum surge is because he is "conservative" (whatever that means). It is pure anti-Mormon bigotry on display.

You need to be logged in to comment.
(If there's one thing we know about comment trolls, it's that they're lazy)