Just before the Florida primary on Tuesday, a wag predicted that it would be won either by the guy everyone hates or the guy no one likes. It was an easy prediction because the election was guaranteed to be won either by Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney. However, although Romney won a crushing victory over Gingrich, whose victory in South Carolina boosted his campaign enormously, it did not erase doubts about his viability as the GOP standard-bearer this fall.
This is not to say that anyone really believes that Gingrich would run better against Barack Obama in the general election than Romney. Exit polls made clear that electability was a key factor in Romney’s victory. Most political professionals think Gingrich would lose so badly to Obama that he would endanger Republicans all the way down the ticket. That’s why what is left of the Republican establishment has gone all-in for Romney.
However, while almost all Republicans believe that Obama is easily beatable and many believe that any Republican can beat him, political pros are more sanguine. Among the factors:
- Incumbent presidents are always hard to beat. The trappings of the presidency go a long way. Also, Obama will be very well financed and has the luxury of husbanding his money while Republicans deplete their contributors’ pockets trying to defeat each other.
- Republicans are doing a lot of Obama’s dirty work for him. Gingrich’s attacks on Romney’s work at Bain Capital, where he made a vast fortune by downsizing businesses and outsourcing jobs, will be echoed by Democrats through the general election campaign.
- Republicans give new ammunition to Obama almost daily. Romney’s statement that he is not concerned about the very poor is only the latest example. And if by some miracle Gingrich manages to win the nomination, the public record is filled to overflowing with his off-the-wall proposals, such as wasting hundreds of billions of dollars to build a colony on the moon for no apparent reason.
- It’s starting to look as if the economy is on a steady, if unspectacular, upward trend. Considering how beaten down the economy has been, it might not take much growth for people to start to feel a lot better. Republicans will claim that Obama’s policies deserve none of the credit, but they also blamed them for the economic slump within minutes of his inauguration. Fairly or not, presidents tend to get the blame for everything bad that happens on their watch and credit for everything good.
Obama’s chances for re-election are starting to look so good that Republican insiders are already considering what it will mean for 2016.
Indeed, Obama’s chances for re-election are starting to look so good that Republican insiders are already considering what it will mean for 2016. One commonly-heard scenario is that the party’s right wing will blame the party establishment for forcing Romney upon them, a moderate Democrat-in-disguise who so dispirited Republican activists that they just stayed home on Election Day, handing Obama an easy victory. The activists will resolve to work even harder to nominate a “real conservative” in 2016.
Alternatively, what’s left of the establishment may conclude that it erred by not uniting behind a candidate more in sync with the party’s conservatives, but with none of Romney’s baggage left over from a political career in the nation’s most liberal state, Massachusetts. Many activists already claim that Romney’s nomination would rob the GOP of its single best issue, opposition to Obama’s health reform, because it is virtually a carbon copy of the health plan Romney approved in Massachusetts when he was governor.
The establishment may try harder to cultivate a winner for 2016 from among the crop of Republicans that flirted with running this time but chose not to run for one reason or another. These include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. Also, by 2016, some of the party’s rising stars such as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida or Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal may be ready for prime time.
If the Republicans lose in November there is going to be heavy soul searching at the headquarters of Fox News.
One thing is for certain. If the Republicans lose in November there is going to be heavy soul searching at the headquarters of Fox News. It is the closest thing to a king maker left in the Republican Party. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were both paid contributors to Fox and the visibility it provided them was extremely important to their campaigns.
Fox may decide that it erred by making it too easy for Republican politicians to curry favor with its conservative viewership and thus avoid developing the positions and skills necessary to win the votes of independents and crossover voters that are essential to victory. It will be interesting to see if any of this year’s Republican losers are offered lucrative contracts with Fox as it did for Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee after the 2008 campaign.
Republicans like David Frum who have been worried about the drift of the party into such a hard core right wing position that it cannot win a presidential election appear somewhat torn as to what the best electoral result is from their point of view. On the one hand, they are all behind Romney, hoping that if he wins he will govern as the center-right leader he was in Massachusetts. But they are fearful that if Romney wins the nomination and loses the general election it could cause the party’s conservative base to redouble its efforts to nominate a “true conservative” in 2016 who would lose even more badly.
Alternatively, it might be better to go down to defeat this year with Gingrich at the top of the ticket, spouting fire-breathing right-wing dogma like a modern day Elmer Gantry. Then the more pragmatic wing of the GOP can tell the activists that they had their chance, as they did in 1964, but now it’s time to nominate a winner, even if it means accepting a less-than-pure candidate like Richard Nixon in 1968.
At this point, it is all just speculation. But clearly, no Republican, except maybe the supporters of long-shot Ron Paul, is really happy with the way the nominating process has gone this year. Even the most enthusiastic, anti-Obama Republican has to admit that his party’s prospects for victory have diminished somewhat over the last several months. If the Republicans lose this fall, there will be recriminations and consequences.