Thursday, January 05, 2012

Is Romney's GOP Nomination a Fait Accompli?

I can understand the frustration among the most conservative of Republican voters as to their wariness of nominating Mitt Romney as their standard bearer for the 2012 presidential election. Even though Romney won the Iowa Caucus last Tuesday by a mere eight votes over Rick Santorum, it seems obvious there's a ceiling to the amount of support Romney can expect in contests where it's Republican v. Republican.

For the better part of six months now, it seems that Romney's ascension to the GOP nomination is all but a given, and that the only thing standing in his way are a series of quick risings and falls among various contenders. First, it was Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty who quit after a disappointing showing in a straw poll. Another Minnesota pol, Michelle Bachmann, also turned out to be a quick flame out.

From Bachmann, the GOP base swooned over several more conservative candidates, only to see them all fall by the wayside as each were undone by a media microscope that exposed each candidate's weaknesses as quickly as they reached the pinnacles of their respective popularity. Rick Perry was the Texas Governor who reminded us of another Governor from the Lone Star State running twelve years earlier. He raised cash hand over fist until a series of debates exposed him for being seriously unprepared for how different federal office is from Austin.

Herman Cain came after Perry. Cain, a businessman who sold pizzas, showed off his conservative bona fides to a Tea Party crowd eager to shake the "racism" label that has dogged them since they began organizing at public venues two years ago. An old youtube clip shows Cain from almost twenty years ago going toe-to-toe with then-President Clinton over his healthcare plan and holding his own. His popularity came when he won a Florida Straw Poll. He rose to front-runner status as quickly as he fell after various reports and multiple allegations of sexual harassment emerged from his time as the President of the National Restaurants Association. His biggest contribution to the race was his 9-9-9 plan which called for a national sales tax, an income tax, and transaction tax, all at 9%. Despite his best efforts to prove otherwise, in-depth analyses showed that his tax plan would've been a tax hike for 84% of the country. Due to his campaign's awkward and clumsy handling of sexual harassment allegations, and then another of adultery, Cain's popularity fell, and then by December, his campaign was suspended.

Newt Gingrich was next to benefit from Cain's fall. Despite his past marital indiscretions, conservatives looked to him as the Romney alternative as he had a past of being the conservative "ideas man," he was a polished debater, and he was the driving opposition during the Clinton years. He tended to embellish his own resume, however. While claiming to be "an academic," Gingrich never really published. Furthermore, his arrogant proclamations in the media that he was going to be the nominee (he even began speaking as if he already wrapped up the nomination by speculating Romney would be on his list of potential VPs) were undermined as early as last week when he declared he wasn't going to win in Iowa. A SuperPAC known as "Restore Our Future" ran ads on behalf of Romney, demolished Gingrich's character, placed doubts inside the minds of supporters as to his credentials, and allowed Romney to avoid having to go negative himself. If that isn't passive-aggressive, I don't know what is.

As Gingrich fell, the next to rise up was a former Pennsylvania Senator, Rick Santorum. Santorum had a successful political career. He was elected to Congress in 1990 and then to the US Senate in 1994 in a Republican wave (the same one that catapulted Gingrich to the Speakership). His election was distinguishable by the fact that he was a conservative Republican who won a statewide office in one of the three biggest swing states. In a state that had elected liberal Republicans like Arlen Specter, Hugh Scott, and John Heinz, Santorum was an outlier. His ascension as the new anti-Romney could not have come at a better time, as he rose in the polls and finished a mere eight votes behind Romney to place second Tuesday.

Santorum is much like previous GOP also-rans, highly conservative, an intellectual lightweight, but sincere about what he says. Whereas candidates like Romney and Jon Huntsman have to dumb themselves down or modify previous stances, or Gingrich who has to talk with his chest puffed five inches out, Santorum fits the mold vacated by Bachmann and Cain. He can feel good about his candidacy right now. But come the next few weeks (or days for that matter), he'll face the same microscope that took down previous rivals.

Santorum could consolidate the anti-Romney sentiment within the GOP, but given his organization, his lack of resources, and whether he can withstand a higher level of scrutiny from the media and opposition, I highly doubt it. The anti-Romney vote, if it were consolidated to just one, or possibly two, candidates could wipe Mitt Romney off the map and out of GOP contention.

I suspect that in the coming days, we'll see just how far Santorum can go, given that New Hampshire is up next, and the voters there are less socially conservative than Iowans or South Carolinians. I'm guessing this thing is Romney's to lose, and we've known this now for three years going.

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