My prediction: Mitt’s the man
It’s not too late for a non-Mitt to win the GOP primary, but it’s getting close. The main reason Romney won’t lose? The reasons for each of the big four non-Mitts staying in are too compelling for any one of them to drop in the next few weeks.
There’s nothing to embarrass a writer more that a political prediction piece, so fully anticipating that nothing in here will actually come true, here’s why I think Mitt Romney has the GOP presidential nomination in the bag.
There’s only 25-40 percent of the GOP that actually wants Mitt. There has been, and continues to be, a solid majority of Republicans who want someone, maybe anyone, else to win their nomination. But as long as that 60-75 percent is split three, four, or five ways, Romney can’t lose. Plus, as he continues to win even with under 40 percent, momentum starts to make him look inevitable, and people – voters, financiers, journalists, and political hacks alike – like being with a winner.
It’s not too late for a non-Mitt to win, but it’s getting close. The main reason Mitt won’t lose? The reasons for each of the big four non-Mitts staying in are too compelling for any one of them to drop in the next few weeks.
After Mitt’s superpac singlehandedly dropped Newt Gingrich from comfortable frontrunner to fifth place, Newt despises Mitt. A lot. He feels Mitt was dishonest and he knows Mitt was ruthlessly negative against another Republican. A friend of mine posited that if Newt really hated Mitt, Newt would gladly drop out, unify the non-Mitt field, and cost Mitt the nomination.
My friend further thinks that Newt doesn’t really want the job anyhow, but rather is lining himself up for more and more book/history/talking head type slots.
I disagree. I think Newt very much wants the job, although his desire for it has a little of that self-indulgent Borkian flavor (“intellectual smorgasbord” and all that).
Newt genuinely believes he’s the best suited to be the non-Mitt, because he’s the smartest guy on the stage (other than maybe Huntsman), Perry’s a loon, and Newt thinks, probably correctly, that Santorum will have a hard time with all the D.C., academic, government, and business folks Newt’s spent his life with. Newt has a terrific competitive streak, meaning he really would rather do almost anything other than get out of the race due to Mitt’s attacks in Iowa.
Even though if Newt really wanted to get back at Mitt, he’d do everything he could, including falling on his own sword, to unify the non-Mitt vote, he badly wants to emerge the victor himself. He has just enough financial backers like billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson to keep his superpac (and by extension, campaign) going. Which is a dilemma for the non-Mitt majority of the GOP because…
Rick Santorum’s not getting out. He’s already the guy with the support of the biggest chunk of the Christian right, which is a big deal for most states’ GOP primary electorate (unfortunately for Santorum, New Hampshire isn’t one of those states).
Santorum’s perspective: There’s no way I’m bailing out when the main alternative is a philanderer who is probably insincere about his faith (to Santorum’s thinking).
Plus, no one does economic populism on the GOP side as well as Santorum, and he well remembers his victories in a Democratic-leaning congressional district, as well as in a Democratic-leaning state. He believes, maybe correctly, that he is the only one that genuinely can wear the mantle of Reagan social conservative and get back blue-collar Reagan Democrats with economic populism. No one else in the GOP field really even tries, except maybe Paul.
Santorum might be the most likely to quit of the four big non-Mitts, because it’s harder to see where his money comes from if he doesn’t break out in South Carolina like he did in Iowa. But for now, as long as he’s in decent double digits and has plenty of evangelically-oriented states ahead of him, he has no reason to be the one to sacrifice himself for non-Mitt unity.
Perry prepares to pounce
The non-Mitt movement is further crippled because Rick Perry legitimately thinks HE’s the non-Mitt. Perry brings the most readily accessible fundraising base outside of Romney himself. He’s got a strong case that he has the best résumé (12-year governor of the 13th largest economy in the world, job growth while the rest of the country imploded, etc.) and best executive experience.
Perry is second only to Santorum in terms of Christian conservative love, is better hooked in to the fiscal conservative crowd than Santorum, and is the only veteran outside of Paul. He’s in with the three big GOP primary groups (fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and military). No one else can say that.
Knowing that most of Santorum’s and Newt’s support would go to him, Perry is thinking, “Why would I get out now, when if the other two fold I’m even or ahead of Romney?” To the detriment of the non-Mitt movement, Perry doesn’t realize how utterly goofy he is seen as by even to a large swath of the GOP primary electorate after the debates (and, perhaps unfairly, due to comparisons to the last Texas governor in the White House).
Ron’s revolution remains
Ron Paul ain’t getting out. He’d love to win, but even if he can’t, he’s not in this to make friends. He’s in it to preach a gospel of repealing government back to levels not seen since before World War I, and tens of millions of Americans love him for it.
For some, it’s ending the counterproductive-at-best, suicidal-at-worst war on drugs. For others it’s ending 75 years of what Paul perceives as American empire and constant warring. For others it’s ending everything from minimum wage to Social Security to Medicare to the safety net to civil rights protections, letting the market decide everything in a dog-eat-dog world.
There’s some overlap with the other GOP contenders on gutting government, but mostly Paul’s the only voice in either party on some of these issues, so why would he give up his platform? I don’t think he makes a 3rd-party run, but if he thinks he can help frame the debate the way he truly believes is best for the country, dropping out isn’t an option until the convention in Tampa.
‘So you’re saying there’s a chance…’
Each of the four major non-Mitts has sound, sensible, logical personal and political reasons for staying in the race. All of which is admirable, understandable, and I’d even say, in my geekiness, cool.
Further guaranteeing that all four stay in the race until Mitt has it locked up is the fact that the first states distribute delegates on a proportional basis, and are small states. That means no one is falling too far behind, and won’t for at least another month. To quote Jim Carrey, “so you’re saying there’s a chance…”
If, by some series of events that are well beyond my ability to foresee, the four non-Mitts (or at least the three non-Paul, non-Mitts) come together and throw their support fully behind one of the others prior to the winner-take-all phase of the primaries, Mitt could be in big trouble. But for the very sensible reasons each candidate has, it’s pretty darn unlikely.
Apologies to Huntsman
P.S. Apologies to Jon Huntsman, who is absolutely brilliant, has great experience, possesses unsurpassed foreign policy knowledge, is civil and honest, and would be a formidable challenger to President Obama. But he really doesn’t have the path to justify staying in that Newt, Santorum, or Perry does, nor the philosophical reason for continuing that Paul does. His path would essentially be the same as Romney’s, and Mitt’s not dropping out.
Had Huntsman made a stronger case that he’s like Mitt but more principled, more experienced, more honest, more consistent, more sincere, and less flawed, he’d have had a chance. Huntsman had the terrible bad luck that his best platform for doing that was a state that doubles as one of Mitt’s vacation homes, where many Republican voters from Massachusetts have moved to, where Mitt campaigned non-stop for five years, and where Mitt spent millions more than even the equally uber-rich Huntsman family would or could spend.
But lots of us in both parties hope Jon Huntsman continues to find a way to serve our country no matter who wins in November. And that will be Romney or Obama.
Bundy is the political and legislative director for AFSCME in New Mexico. The opinions in his column are personal and do not necessarily reflect any official AFSCME position. You can learn more about him by clicking here. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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