02.09.2012 0

Why Romney can’t seal the deal

Mitt RomneyBy Robert Romano — As the Republican nominating process for president continues to unfold, Republicans continue to render a harsh verdict against former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney — the presumptive frontrunner — who lost decisively in three contests to former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum in Missouri, Colorado, and Minnesota.

The result was a big surprise for many political observers who presumed after Romney’s big win in Florida he had the contest in the bag.  After eight contests, Romney has only won three, and only achieved a slim majority in one.  In all other seven states, a majority voted against him.

Some of that can be attributed to what started out as a wide field.  But even as the field has narrowed, it has more so been to the benefit of the other candidates.

Currently about two-thirds of Republican voters remain opposed to Romney.  And if anything, since 2008, his support has imploded in states he once carried like Minnesota and Colorado.

So what has happened? How did Romney go from being the “conservative” alternative to John McCain, to being the establishment’s choice that conservatives don’t trust?

Romney was the beneficiary in 2008 of the “anybody-but-McCain” movement when McCain’s various apostasies were well-known among the conservative base of the GOP. Now, four years later, Romney’s record of support for big government has rallied those former-Romney supporters into an “anybody-but-Romney” movement.

It is safe to say that these are the same supporters in polls who have gone from supporting Michele Bachmann to Rick Perry to Hermain Cain to Newt Gingrich to Rick Santorum back to Gingrich and now back to Santorum.  These voters do not lack principles, they are desperately looking for a candidate that upholds their principles.

The process overall has swung on substance over style and has perhaps been the most transparent on the issues ever.  Candidates that have garnered the “anybody-but-Romney” vote (and lost it) have done so based largely on debate performances and careful vetting.

After Florida and Nevada, Santorum benefited from Gingrich’s failure to top Romney, and his campaigning heavily in the contested states of Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri while Gingrich laid low. “Anybody-but-Romney” voters were also inundated with media analysis suggesting that Romney had wrapped up the nomination, which may have also assisted in adding urgency to Santorum’s ascendancy.

Going forward, now Santorum has won four contests, including Iowa — more than any other candidate.  This has struck a major blow to Romney’s narrative of inevitability.

So why can’t Romney seal the deal?

The “anybody-but-Romney” movement has risen not only because of his association with Romneycare and the individual health care mandate — although that’s certainly the primary reason.  On virtually every policy issue of domestic concern to conservatives, including bailouts, climate change, “stimulus,” “green” jobs, and corporate welfare, he has been on the wrong side of the issue at least once.

Romney didn’t help himself recently when he suggested he was not concerned about the poor, even though there are 28 million Americans who cannot find full-time work and are becoming poor despite the “safety net” he heralded.  Was he out of touch? He said he was concerned about middle class Americans instead.  Was he playing class warfare?

Then, he made matters worse with conservatives when, to respond to media criticism over his comments, he suggested automatic hikes in the minimum wage indexed to inflation, something that’s never been attempted before at the federal level.

Romney’s two-fold gaffe had exposed a critical flaw: That he accepts the premise of the welfare state.  With a debt over $15.3 trillion and the amount of Americans dependent on government benefits soaring, that is simply not what Republicans are seeking in a candidate.  The overwhelming response to Romney was that the jobless do not need welfare as much as they need a job.

After his wins on Feb. 7, Santorum wisely said he wasn’t the conservative alternative to Romney, but the conservative alternative to Barack Obama.  He is avoiding a negative assault on Romney, a strategy that did not serve either Perry or Gingrich well, while acknowledging that voters are indeed looking for an alternative to Romney.

That might work. Heading into the Tampa convention, the candidate that successfully draws a careful distinction with Romney on key issues may well garner the “anybody-but-Romney” sentiment and become the nominee.  Also, should the field narrow further, it would most certainly not be to Romney’s benefit.

Robert Romano is the Senior Editor of Americans for Limited Government.

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