All of the Republican 2012 presidential candidates whose name is not Mitt Romney have the same problem: what to do about the one whose name is Mitt Romney.
His paltry seventh place finish in this weekend’s Iowa Straw Poll didn’t dislodge the former Massachusetts governor from frontrunner status. The Washington Post now declares the top tier candidates to be poll winner Michele Bachmann, Romney, and the new entrant, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
But the fact is that unless they are content to allow Romney to sail to nomination next year, the other GOP contenders have work hard to knock him from that frontrunner perch — and now.
One has to go back just four years to see why.
John McCain finished even worse in the 2007 straw poll, and still went on the next year to win the GOP nomination.
McCain emerged that year as something of a de-facto frontrunner, and that ultimately carried him to win the nomination with something of a sense of inevitability.
It’s that sense of inevitability around Romney this time that his Republicans opponents now must do away with.
The longer that Romney carries the title of presumptive frontrunner, the harder it will be knock him out.
That’s why Perry, Bachmann, and the others have do so — and quickly.
Make no mistake, Romney clearly is the Republican establishment’s favored candidate.
So was McCain four years ago.
There is little true excitement for Romney among the conservative grassroots, but neither was there for McCain last time. (McCain only caught fire on the right once he picked Sarah Palin as his running mate.)
The dynamics between McCain’s road to nomination, and the one Romney is pursuing today, are remarkably similar.
Which is why the rest of the Republican field has to train its rhetorical fire on Romney, and do so in a sustained way.
In a way, the others have to almost tag-team him, to push him out as frontrunner, if not drive him from the race entirely. In every GOP debate from here on out, and in every campaign appearance, each and every one (at least those who seriously want to entertain a shot at the nomination) have to be relentless in critiquing everything about Mitt Romney: his poor job-creation record, his abundant flip-flops on key issues — absolutely everything.
Otherwise, the perception of Romney as frontrunner will morph, slowly but surely, into reality. And then Romney simply will become unassailable.
The Republicans may want to spend all of their time attacking President Obama now, but that only will feed into Romney’s hopes merely to continue on as the uncontested frontrunner. Their sole opponent right now has to be Mitt Romney.
The other candidates must clearly demonstrate to the Republican primary electorate that there is a credible alternative as frontrunner.
If the other candidates give Romney even a momentary pass now, they likely will find that, for them, there is no later.