Romney, the only hope left

Patricio Navia

Buenos Aires Herald, December 6, 2011


The self and mutual destructive mood prevalent in the Republican race for the presidential primaries has strengthened President Obama’s reelection chances.  However, Republicans should not yet be discounted as hopeless. Though he is not the favorite among the party’s vocal religious conservative rightwing, and despite his evidence weaknesses, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is the most electable among the remaining Republican contenders. If he does win the nomination, he will be competitive against President Obama in November 2012. The incumbent president will have a better chance to win, but if Romney is the Republican candidate, the opposition party will have optimized its chances given the names that are currently in the race.


After he lost the Republican nomination to John McCain in 2008, Romney began preparing himself to challenge President Obama in 2012. He had a number of good things going for him. In addition to the experience of being a candidate in the primaries, Romney had a lot of money of his own and an outstanding fundraising ability. In 2008, he put together an impressive operation, with campaign workers all across America and a fundraising structure that gave him a clear advantage towards 2012. As a moderate among Republicans, Romney could also aspire to attract centrist voters who disapproved of the way the Republican Party had evolved during the Bush administration. Moreover, because he was the governor in a predominantly Democratic state, Romney could also run on his ability to achieve bipartisanship and to work with the opposition party to advance pragmatic and moderate reforms. His support for health care reform in Massachusetts would strengthen his position against President Obama, who made health care reform a priority in his administration. 


When he was a candidate in 2008, Romney also showed his weaknesses.  He was too flexible in his positions, giving his opponents sufficient evidence to label him as a flip-flopper. He was always characterized as being for, against and then for controversial positions on social and moral issues. He had difficulties defending his positions and explaining why he had changed his views on key subjects.  Though flip-flopping can be presented as commendable pragmatism, Romney was unable to explain himself and was portrayed as weak on principles and too accommodating. Still, after the 2008 campaign, Romney was positioned as the front runner and favorite to win the Republican nomination in 2012.


Then, the Republican Party was infiltrated and eventually came to be dominated by the Tea Party, a conservative movement with positions far to the right of the median American voter. With the low turnout levels in the midterm election, the Tea Party made significant gains in Congress.  The Republican Party regained control of the House and President Obama was put on the defensive.  Tea Party sympathizers felt that they could win the Republican nomination and force the debate further to the right, imposing conservative views that were not necessarily popular with the electorate. Assuming that many voters would be inclined to punish President Obama for the economic hardship and high unemployment, Tea Party advocates strategized that any Republican candidate would be competitive against Obama. Thus, they thought, it would be better to impose a conservative in the Republican primaries and then take on Obama than to settle for a Republican moderate that would have equally high chances of defeating Obama in 2012.


Tea Party conservatives sought to prevent moderate Romney from wining the Republican nomination. Throughout 2012, they tried with different conservative candidates. From Representative Michelle Bachmann to Texas government Rick Perry, Tea Party activists were determined to find a candidate that could prevent Romney from winning the nomination. The Tea Party wanted a true conservative as the Republican candidate in 2012. After the failure of the last effort to unify conservative support behind African American businessman Herman Cain, Tea Party conservatives are making a last minute effort to support the former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich.  Though polls show Gingrich and Romney running a close race for the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primaries, it would seem as if Romney will again prevail against this last minute challenge.


Ironically, if Tea Party conservatives fail and Mitt Romney clinches the party’s nomination, the Republican Party will have chosen its most electable candidate. Romney has struggled precisely because his moderation is a weakness in the Republican primaries but it will become an asset in the general election.  If he is indeed the nominee, Romney will be a formidable candidate. After surviving the vicious attacks led by Tea Party activists and other Republican contenders, Romney is a better candidate. He continues to have the same weaknesses as in 2008 and will be tainted by past scandals and accusations of flip-flopping.  However, Obama is not a perfect candidate either. The economy is a major obstacle for the first African American president to win re-election. Romney stands a good chance against Obama. Certainly, he stands a better chance than any of the other Republican hopefuls still in the race to win the primaries that start four weeks from today.