Romney’s ideal scenario

Patricio Navia

Buenos Aires Herald, January 3, 2012

 

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is the favorite to win today’s Republican caucuses in Iowa. As the most competitive Republican against Obama, Romney needs to do well today. His ideal scenario would be to end up in first place and to have Libertarian-inclined Representative Ron Paul come in second. That would weaken Newt Gingrich, his closest contender, and would help make Romney’s nomination inevitable. With the nomination secured, Romney will be able to start working on a winning strategy to face Obama in the November 6th presidential election.

 

Ever since he lost in the 2008 primaries to John McCain, Romney began to lay the groundwork for the 2012 presidential race. He has refined his well-known strengths, but has struggled with his weaknesses.  He strengthened his credentials as a policy-wonk who understands the economic and financial challenges faced by the nation. He has polished his profile as a pragmatic businessman who also built a solid career as a politician. He has been less successful at fighting the flip-flopper stereotype. Positions that he could have defended as pragmatic and moderate have been cast by his contenders as ambiguous and unprincipled. He has fallen victim to the perception that he always changes views depending on the mood of the electorate.

 

Though he built a record of moderation and pragmatism as a governor, Romney gave in to pressures from Republican vocal rightwing activists during the campaign. He adopted increasingly conservative positions on all sort of issues. Because the Republican primary electorate is more conservative than the average American voter, Romney moved to the right to prevent alienating his party base. The faster he secures the Republican nomination, the faster he will be able to move back to moderate positions and embrace centrist ideas that are more attractive to independent voters frustrated with the way Washington works and with the direction of the economic recovery.

 

For almost a year, Romney has resisted efforts by conservative Republicans who oppose his presidential ambitions. For the Republican right, the 2011 primary campaign was all about stopping Romney.   Just as he has resisted efforts to bring him down, Romney has also worked hard to seduce conservative Republicans.  Romney spent 2011 telling conservative voters that he holds conservative principles dearly and that he would govern as a conservative. Understandably, rightwing conservatives did not believe him. Instead, they see those efforts as yet more evidence that Romney will say anything to get their support. By trying to woo conservative Republicans, Romney has given more ammunition to those who accused him of having no principles.

 

In today’s Iowa caucuses, Romney’s strategy might prove successful.  Though he did not campaign much there—focusing more on next week’s New Hampshire primaries—he is expected to finish first. All the other Republican conservative candidates who actively campaigned in Iowa have failed to position themselves as credible alternatives. In recent days, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, a conservative catholic, and representative Ron Paul have gained momentum. Former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, who had momentum in early December, has lost it. Fortunately for Romney, neither Santorum nor Paul is very competitive against Romney in the upcoming primaries in New Hampshire and the rest of the nation. Thus, if either of them ends up second in Iowa, Romney will have disposed of the more competitive candidates for the rest of the race.

 

The year 2011 was an exercise in endurance for Romney. Now that he is expected to win in Iowa, Romney will take a giant leap forward to secure the Republican nomination. Once other contenders are out of the race—with a couple of diehard conservatives, like Ron Paul, staying until the end, to secure time and some influence in the Republican national convention—Romney will have to move into the stage 2 of his simply designed but laborious roadmap.  Romney will now have to undergo another transformation and reverse to his prior and historic moderate positions.  Naturally, his opponents—and President Obama’s reelection team—will use the opportunity to cast Romney as a flip-flopper.  The likely Republican candidate will moderate many of the conservative positions he took when he was trying to secure the Republican nomination. 

 

Fortunately for him, as moderate Americans have not been paying that much attention to the Republican race, Romney will not pay an excessively high cost in marching back to the middle. The benefits he will reap by adopting moderate positions again will outweigh the costs of being labeled as a flip-flopper.  If he were to keep the conservative views he has uttered during the Republican primary campaign, he would inevitably lose against Obama. If instead he moves to moderate and centrist views, he will be increasingly competitive against the unpopular and disappointing Obama.

 

Conservative Republicans will undoubtedly feel betrayed by the new centrist Romney, but since the decisive votes are among moderate and independent Americans, the next battle Romney will fight—if he does secure the Republican nomination—will require him to go back to the moderate and pragmatic views he once held as governor of Massachusetts.