Massachusetts governor and current U.S. presidential candidate Mitt
Romney may succeed in tapping into the coffers of former financial
backers of the Bush family’s political fortunes. One would expect no
less from a man who has all the patrician bearing of George Bush, Sr.
But all of the money raking, supremely important as it is in U.S. elections, may do him no good in the end.
At a recent discussion, I asked a speculative question about the policies of a future Romney Administration. It was a largely Republican crowd, and I had tried to be nice. To no avail. As I was walking out after the event, a septuagenarian defense type sidled up to me and hissed under his breath, “This country will never elect a Mormon as president.”
And then I realized that the man, acting so adamantly against his own basic political instincts, had basically pronounced Barack Obama’s reelection. Lots of disappointed liberals may stay home in November 2012, but so will a lot of Republicans if Mitt Romney is their party’s standard-bearer.
Consider that a mid-2011 Gallup poll found that about 20% of Republicans said they would not support a Mormon for president. Seeing as how modern U.S. presidential elections are usually won by small margins, this could pave the way for an Obama victory over Romney in November 2012.
From the Republican Party’s perspective, this is particularly tragic seeing as how, compared to the rest of the Republican field, Mr. Romney is the most electable by a considerable margin. In fact, even liberals might wish that he would be elected president — if, in exchange, Democrats were granted control of both houses of Congress.
The indications from Mr. Romney’s past are that he will yield to Democratic desires, much as Mr. Obama has given in to the Republicans. (In that context, one immensely talented wit described the current U.S. president’s negotiating style with his political opponents as akin to showing up to a game of strip poker in only a pair of Speedos. In other words, one false move — and it’s game over.)
There is also no doubt that Mr. Romney is well-qualified. Yes, his “entrepreneurial” experience was largely limited to doing private equity deals for friends and family and the already well-endowed. Still, even that meager business background gives him much more insight into the economy than the other Republican candidates possess.
These traits help account for Mr. Romney’s relatively strong standing in head-to-head polling matchups with President Obama. While not a decisive favorite to defeat the sitting president, the former Massachusetts governor fares better than any other Republican candidate.
While Mr. Romney trails Mr. Obama by less than two percentage points in the RealClearPolitics polling average, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is nearly six points behind the president.
As things stand, however, much of the Republican Party’s firmament is desperately hoping to avoid a Mormon winning the party’s nomination. To prevent Romney, they were bizarrely even willing to embrace Herman Cain and other figures, such as the current Texas governor, Rick Perry — a man in the George W. Bush vein, with a more boisterous and self-confident voice, but a considerably lower IQ. Now, Mr. Gingrich is the non-Mormon frontrunner of the moment.
Despite his clear advantage in the general election over his Republican rivals, Romney has not yet broken out of the pack in the race for the Republican nomination. His support has yet to surpass 25% — and the latest polls show him trailing Gingrich by wide margins.
Thus, one of the most interesting aspects of the 2012 campaign is whether prejudice among the Republican base will prevent the most qualified and most electable candidate from winning the party’s nomination.
Or, if Mr. Romney does manage to win the GOP nomination, will bigotry among Republicans cause a crucial segment of them to stay home on Election Day 2012, thereby helping deliver a second term to a man whom they profess to disdain, if not hate?