Mitt Romney has been the “Inevitable GOP nominee” since the unofficial start of the GOP presidential race. But that name has not been awarded to him by conservative Republicans or by Tea Partiers. It has been given to him by the media. And the truth is far from this reality. Romney has never been able to gain a solid footing in the GOP race and alternatives to him have continued to rise and fall as Romney has stayed stagnant. While many analysts may have missed it at the beginning more are starting to come to a simple realization. If Romney wins the GOP nomination, and if needs to be stressed, it will not be a clean, short win. It will be a long slog.
Romney’s strategy up to the start of December was to not compete in IA, finish in second or third in name ID, win New Hampshire, compete a bit in South Carolina, finishing second or third. Then he would hit Florida and Nevada hard, cruise into Michigan after two wins and then win Super Tuesday. Well apparently his campaign has finally caught onto the simple truth that this is no longer a viable strategy. Romney’s campaign has started to compete and invest heavily in IA. This appears to be out of simple necessity. Of the first three candidates to rise (Bachmann, Perry, Cain) none was able to dent Romney’s big lead in NH. But Gingrich, in a slate of recent polls, has threatened Romney’s lead. This means Romney would not be able to waltz into SC after a 30 point win in New Hampshire. And worse for Romney is even as he has invested in Iowa he is now either in third or fourth in Iowa (barely beating Perry).
All these things point to Romney being forced to win in a dragged out primary. But there are several other reasons why. In early 2011 the RNC decided to change the way it allots delegates. Long story short they implemented rules changes that incentivized (in truth forced) many caucus and primary states before April to adopt proportional allotment of their delegates. The big Northeastern states that gave John McCain the nomination in 2008 on Super Tuesday will now not be winner-take-all. Instead what is likely to come out of Super-Tuesday is a close delegate count between the last two remaining challengers (most likely Romney, Perry or Gingrich). This change was designed to encourage a longer primary so that infrastructure could be built up in key swing states.
Republicans simply do not like Romney. On a personal level they appreciate Romney is a businessman and is sounding conservative but in terms of core convictions they have always had doubts. This is evidenced by the fact that never once in the last three months has Romney ever led among self-identified Tea Partiers in any national survey and many state surveys. (he has led among them in NH). Republicans are rightly weary of the many positions Romney has taken in the past that are not even close to being conservative. His running as a progressive Republican in 94 against Teddy Kennedy (pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, against the Contract with America), his record as Governor of MA in 2002 (most notably passing Romneycare), and mainly just changing his stances time and time again. It would be one thing if Romney did it over 20 years. But Romney did it in the span of 2 years from 2006-2008 so he could run for president as a Republican. If any Republican did this it would be questionable.
There know also appear to be growing doubts among Republicans about his general election viability. Romney’s policy flips have always made his path to the nomination difficult but among some establishment Republicans it has made them back away from him. Romney and Gingrich in several polls are running well with Obama (though Romney runs stronger in more surveys). But when voters are asked in these surveys about which candidate they trust more on a whole host of issues Romney falls short on trust and authenticity in one survey. This points to Romney struggling to get out conservatives in the general. Sure, Romney may win a few more moderate independent votes in the suburbs than Gingrich or Perry might but Romney is also more likely to lower turnout in core conservative areas across the country he needs. This factor has made even some of his solid moderate support consider another candidate over Romney.
Lastly, the primary calendar comes into play here. Many of the key states that vote before Super Tuesday are not friendly to Romney. Iowa, South Carolina and Florida being notable examples. And with the new RNC rules allotting delegates on a proportional basis and not winner-take-all basis Romney’s wins could be limited (through the number of delegates he gets). Of the twenty or so states that vote on Super Tuesday about half seem friendly to Romney and half not. As the primary shakes out right before Iowa more states may appear to favor or oppose Romney. After Super Tuesday is when many more favorable Romney states start voting. This is bared out by recent Gallup data on ideology in all 50 states and when those states are scheduled to vote in the GOP primary. Many of the states after Super Tuesday have a higher proportion of moderates then the before Super Tuesday voting states. And considering Romney has played best among moderates against whoever he faces after Super Tuesday he could be best positioned to pull it off.
Romney’s base of support is the deepest of any candidate (short of Paul). And he is not lacking for cash (from K Street) and infrastructure. But Romney’s path to the nomination has always been complicated and based on a lot of ifs. With the nomination now coming into focus it appears that Romneys best path lies with winning a long-drawn out process and using the early state rule of proportional delegate allocation to his advantage then win states after Super Tuesday (with higher numbers of moderates, a key block of support for Romney). The media and many analysts finally seem to have caught onto this reality. About time. And for Romney and his staff it means you better keep plugging all the way to the Convention in August.