To Win Or, You Know...Not

Before we get too carried away with being convinced that Romney has the Republican nomination in the bag, let’s refresh our collective memory with where the Republican process was this time four years ago: 10/13/2007 Real Clear Politics Average: Giuliani: 30.2, Thompson: 19.5, McCain: 13.0, Romney: 11.2, Huckabee: 6.2Paul: 2.2.

Compare this to now: 2012 RCP Average 10/13/11: Romney: 22.7, Cain: 20.3, Perry: 13.7, Gingrich: 8.3, Paul: 8.2, Bachman: 4.8, Santorum: 2.0, Huntsman: 1.6.

Perry is in almost the exact same place McCain was 4 years ago at 13%. Thompson found the rigors of campaigning too taxing and dropped out. Giuliani didn’t win a single primary. McCain was never a good speaker; he bumbled around and looked awkward at times, and was never a great debater. Yet, he went on to win the nomination even though on October 13, 2007 John McCain was saying that climate change was real and that real action needed to be taken.

What is scary about this is that he actually sounds reasonable, sane and articulate compared to the current crop of candidates.

I’m thinking that if John McCain can speak in public on this Republican bone of contention (third rail?) and still win the nomination, then there really isn’t any topic that can bar any of the current contenders from the same achievement.

Romney might be at the top of the current poll, although not by much, but he has easily as much to overcome to win the nod as Perry, or even Cain. The other thing John McCain was saying on October 13, 2011? Romney is not a real Republican. If it’s true that the Tea Party prefer to have someone who can beat President Obama over someone who agrees with their ideology (CNN Poll Sept/2011), then the hardcore ideologues like Perry and Cain present a challenge for them. Cain appears to be a disposable ideologue at this point; he might even be backed by the Koch brothers, perhaps for the sole purpose of providing cover for their first choice of candidate, Rick Perry. Rick Perry is reported to be a shrewd politician with a solid financial and organizational base to back his bid. Update: Perry raised $17 million in the third quarter. Cain only managed several hundred thousand. Mitt raised $14 million.

Cain strikes me more as the flavor-of-the-month anti-Mitt. One thing is clear, however: Herman Cain has never won an election or held any public office. That’s a bigger deal than most people bother to mention. It’s happened before: George Washington, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, William Howard Taft and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Four of those Presidents were military men and Taft rode into office on the strength of the popularity of FDR. Cain just doesn’t have the gravitas or experience to pass even a basic electability litmus test. Americans simply are not going to toss out a proven and capable President for a completely inexperienced candidate with zero foreign policy chops and no military experience. As popular as Cain appears to be right now, he can’t make that go away.

In stark contrast, Rick Perry has been Governor for 10+ years and he finished his stint in the Air Force as a Captain. Americans like that kind of record. Republicans like that kind of record. McCain’s military record was flashier, his father was more famous, and his record of public service was thoroughly consistent. McCain’s move away from his rogue status to the middle of the road was much commented on, but ultimately ignored by the Republican voting public. I don’t think it’s a stretch to speculate that Perry’s roughness and lack of oratorical skills could prove just as acceptable, perhaps even preferable to the polished demeanor of our President. Remember, we have no say in which candidate the Republicans choose. That said, the ultimate choice of nominee still has some basic benchmarks to meet to look good in a general election. So far, only Romney and Perry have a realistic chance of hitting those marks. They were both Governors and therefore possess administrative skills. Both have run for office and won. Both have proven fund-raising capabilities. Neither of them knows what is really involved in running for President. Romney announced his ’08 bid for President on June 2nd, 2007 and dropped out on February 7th, 2008. Eight months of campaigning for the nomination to run for President. That isn’t exactly a resounding show of endurance. A woman carrying a child to term works harder than that.

What did Romney do from February 7th, 2008 to April 11th, 2011? The way I hear it told, that would be exactly nothing. Not one moment was spent in service to the public during that time. He was ‘unemployed’. Plus there’s that annoying 264 Million Dollars in net worth thing. In the current climate of people looking askance at the ultra-wealthy, Mr. Romney could end up with a great big dollar sign hung around his neck like an albatross. His wealth won’t repel the Republican base, but I wouldn’t want him on my fantasy politics team when it came to adding up who has the best chance of getting to redecorate the big neoclassical house on Pennsylvania Avenue.

For better or worse the Republican establishment has thrown their hat into Romney’s ring. Chris Christie anointed him conditionally, too. That’s what the White Boys want; I get it. I’m still not convinced that Mitt is acceptable now or can be quickly made acceptable to the real base. If he does become ‘acceptable’ it will be in a ‘gruel to a starving street urchin’ kind of way. A lot has to happen to make that gruel seem palatable between now and the Iowa Caucuses a few short months from now, most notably Perry would have to be completely incapable of earning the trust and devotion of the Tea Party in favor of their current shiny toy Cain.

Something just doesn’t track for me though. If 8 of 10 Tea Party people have as their highest priority unseating the President, then why are only 22% of Republicans favoring Romney this close to the primary season? Name recognition loses its value at this point. Will the once and mighty Tea Party have to essentially throw up their hands in exasperation and accept Mitt Romney, a man they genuinely dislike? Is the Republican establishment that certain of the Tea Party’s ultimate capitulation? I haven’t seen any evidence yet that the establishment has offered even a scrap or a bone, something that would mollify that crowd in exchange for their cooperation. I guess I expected the establishment to at least offer some proof that Romney can beat the President in an election.

This is shaping up to be a recipe for a massive case of cognitive dissonance for the average Tea Party voter. The only clear choice left to them is between two marginally electable candidates. Either they get the candidate they sort of love, or they get the candidate they pretty much hate. They will vote for the eventual nominee, but boy do they have to swallow a bitter, bitter pill to get there.

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Open thread

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