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Republican Candidates Have But One Opponent: Mitt Romney

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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.

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About Scott Nance

  • John Lake

    It may be that the real tragedy out of the Straw Polls is the rejection of Huntsman based on his previous affiliations. At a time when some very extreme ideas are being bandied about by libertarians, and ‘social conservatives’ a little pinch of centrism and some less aisle awareness might be just the ticket. All the Republican field is hot on the anti-Obama bandwagon, while Obama is quietly considering renting out all those blighty vacancies, thereby causing jobs, jobs, jobs, and producing income, income, income. The key is in the quietly. He has some abhorrence it seems to pomp and fanfare, and isn’t about to change his mind.

    As all the Republican field ignore the foreign policy attributes of the presidency, as Bachmann is defining Commander in Chief as being a function of economics, China is raking in our cash, provoking us to expand our military hardware, and making snide remarks about our economy. Chinese Billionaire, Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, says, about American politicians, “Being number one is the mission, not the goal. Always think about the mission. It’s the mission that drives you. It’s not the number one that drives you.”

    Following the election of 2008, dealing with and understanding the Islamic community, and the nations of the Near and Middle East was a predominant issue. Since Obama’s election, the overall picture has quietly, without fanfare, improved. Following the election of 2011, the focus will swing to our relation with unpredictable China. Huntsman is the ranking American expert on China, and is brilliant and philosophical, while being neither eccentric nor peculiar. But Huntsman is getting the poo*poo. While being another Mormon in the field, he did his missionary work in China, Huntsman doesn’t appear to be seeking the nod of the evangelicals. If fact he is pragmatic, and a champion of human rights. Of course, he had to be, working in China. In any case, Bachmann might write a mean blog, particularly if the subject were “life”; Paul is a philosopher and a free thinker, but awfully extreme in his views. Romney courts the Heritage people, and is a zealot of the corporate movement (which at a better time would be illegal) and therefore, not on my personal list of qualified Republican wanna bees. It would be great if the voters in New Hampshire were to recognize Huntsman, but I doubt they will.

  • Baronius

    Of course, you can go back further to Taft-Dewey or Goldwater-Rockefeller. The pattern sometimes gets distorted when there’s an Eisenhower or Nixon dominating the party, but I don’t think that any candidate in 2012 has that kind of popularity.

    I think the Democrats tend to have the emerging candidate groundswell scenario. Maybe that’s why Scott analyzed Republicans that way. I just don’t think that that pattern applies to Republican primaries.

  • Baronius

    I disagree with the tactics suggested by this article. Traditionally, the Republican nomination is a fight between the top moderate and the top conservative. A Huntsman has to beat Romney this soon to have a place in the showdown between right and center. A Bachmann, Perry, or Paul would love to emerge as the #1 candidate, but can still win from the position of #1 conservative.

    I hate repeating myself online, and I know I’ve said the following before, but look at recent history:

    1980: Bush(m)-Reagan(c)
    1988: Dole(m)-Bush(c)
    1992: Bush(m)-Buchanan(c)
    1996: Dole(m)-Buchanan(c)
    2000: McCain(m)-Bush(c)

    The pattern fell apart in 2008 because McCain positioned himself as the defense conservative, Romney the fiscal conservative, and Huckabee the social conservative.

    Scott’s analysis is king-of-the-hill. Mine is brackets.

  • Dave’s Friend


    I’m a Romney supporter and like my fellow friends that support Romney, we are all pretty boring. We vote with our heads and pocketbooks. You won’t hear much from us except election time and when Romney has to report donations or when we get called for polling. We don’t have the energy and excitement that the kids in this Party have and we like it that way.

  • The only important fact I can raise is that Romney is getting some of the Wall Street money that once went to Obama almost exclusively in 2008. I see this as the traders hedging their bets lest Obama tank in the polls and Romney win the election and not support for his policies.

  • I just want to know where these Republicans who support Romney are hiding. He had to bus in paid supporters for CPAC is virtually absent from the media and I can’t think of more than a handful of Republican notables who support him. Most of the excitement in the establishment seems directed at Perry.