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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Romney: The Default Option?

In Epic Journey, we write that McCain's rivals for the 2008 GOP nomination all had bigger problems than he did. "Although he had irritated many Republicans, McCain was perhaps the most broadly acceptable of the candidates, and by the time voting began he seemed to be the one Republican who might be able to salvage a tough year." At this point, 2012 seems to be a more promising election for the GOP, but electability is still a concern. At The Washington Examiner, Timothy Carney suggests that the pattern is repeating itself, with Romney in the McCain role. How has formerly-pro-choice author of a health mandate gotten into position?

By default.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, the favorite of the conservative movement elites, demurred, apparently because of family considerations. A different sort of family issue precluded former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush from running. Conservative juggernaut Sarah Palin never really considered running. The most promising conservative leader, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, was overcome by true love for his mistress and thus abdicated his chance at the throne. It was too early for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Rep. Paul Ryan took a pass.

Once Tim Pawlenty proved a paper tiger, Romney found himself surrounded by a thin field of congressmen, has-beens and other long shots. Rick Perry's Superman-like entry into the race after the Ames Straw Poll shook things up, but the Perry Express is already losing steam.

Perry's immigration stands are unpopular with the base. His crony-capitalist mandate of Merck's Gardasil vaccine looks bad. But more importantly, his debate appearances make Republicans doubt he can beat Obama.

In the debates, Perry fades. Near the end of long answers, he stumbles. In the second half of these two-hour debates, he starts to lose concentration and stammer. On Thursday night, he whiffed at an attempt to hit Romney for his flip-flops -- akin to striking out in T-ball.

Perry's run looks less like Bill Clinton's 1992 white-knight performance and more like Fred Thompson's 2008 fizzle.

This leaves Republicans with the unthinkable: Romney, who ran to the left of Ted Kennedy in 1994 and who could have been Obama's health policy director, is now the most likely man to carry the GOP nomination in 2012.

It's Republican history repeating itself. In 2008, John McCain was the man the GOP base would never tolerate. McCain had passed unconstitutional "campaign finance reform," resisted Bush's tax cuts, supported a Ted Kennedy-sponsored "patients' bill of rights," and advocated amnesty for illegal immigrants, among other apostasies.

But ultimately, McCain was "next in line," having come in second to George W. Bush in 2000. The GOP primary electorate settled for him.