What’s so bad about Mitt?
Mitt Romney seemed to do well in last night’s first Republican debate, and Michelle Bachmann was the surprise success, for many. (Pawlenty seemed to confirm suspicions that he is the genuinely ersatz candidate of the race.) I was focused on the hockey game in nearby Boston, so didn’t watch, and am judging by the various live-blogging threads I checked in on. I’m pleasantly surprised Romney did well, as he has always seemed to me to be the natural leading candidate if the GOP wants to make a serious run at Obama, and I do think it’ll be a very tight race. Any Republican nominee, as any Democrat, will get a committed 45 percent, and it’s the few percentage points in the middle who will make the difference.
Romney has a record to run on, he looks good, and he can raise money. His health care plan in Massachusetts (source of Pawlenty’s “Obamneycare” dig) signals to the wider voting populace that he’s not an ideologue, as does his tack to the right to attract the more conservative GOP primary voters, and to rally the base of a more conservative Republican party. Romney is a politician who will do what his supporters want, and will also do what is possible and good for his track record. (Romney’s grown up response about Muslims also played well, and was refreshing; that must be an extension of his Mormon experience, and I hope he plays that out in the campaign, even though he’s vulnerable with many on his religion. Better to face it than run from it.)
Romney’s weakness in securing the nomination — a lack of ideological purity and right-wing culture warrior bona fides — would seem to hold him in good stead in the general election contest. And maybe Republican voters are sensing that too. A Gallup poll this week showed that 50 percent of Republicans would back the candidate with the best chance of beating Barack Obama while 44 percent would favor someone who shares their views on the issues they most care about even if he or she would not have as good a shot at the Oval Office.
Gallup also showed Romney widening his preference among Republicans, to 24 percent, with Sarah Palin coming in second. But Michelle Bachmann’s strong performance last night may switch things up, and make people realize what a nonentity Palin is, and what an underestimated, veteran politician Bachmann is. Those are encouraging developments, to me, because even if I don’t cotton to much Republican ideology these days, I do prefer grown-up pols who have a feel for governing.
So, “Romney-Bachmann 2012″? I have to discount Texas governor Rick Perry as yet another flavor-of-the-day for an underwhelmed GOP base. Besides he’s too busy trying to be the next Billy Graham, though the fact that he’s a cheapskate when it comes to the collection plate may not help him there.
I still think the GOP’s best candidate is “2016,” with a governor-to-be-named later. Same with the Dems. Cuomo v. Christie, anyone?
PS: Jon Chait sees Paul Ryan as the “missing man” who could instantly transform the field. Me, not so much. I think the party would rather keep him as the stalking horse for the more radical GOP agenda. But he’s be the third Catholic candidate! Ryan, Gingrich, and Santorum. Hmmmm….