Assessing Inside the Circus, an e-book about the interminable GOP primary, Time's Alex Altman writes, "The real value of the book is that it captures the zeitgeist of what has been, for Republicans, a horribly depressing campaign. A very conservative party is on the verge of nominating a relative moderate whom nobody is very excited about, largely because none of his rivals managed to cobble together a professional operation." But that isn't why Mitt Romney is winning!
Forget the talent of the operatives running the campaigns. What follows are easily more significant factors in the GOP's reluctant but seemingly inevitable decision to put forth Romney as the nominee:
1) For various reasons, candidates who might've bested him in the nominating contest, like Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie, decided against running this year.
2) Quite apart from the professionalism of their campaigns, every Romney rival who did run had glaring substantive flaws. Rick Perry embarrassed himself in a series of catastrophic debate performances, where he demonstrated a lack of familiarity with even his most radical proposals. Herman Cain put forth a widely ridiculed economic platform, showed he had zero knowledge of foreign affairs, and seemed like he was lying when accused of cheating on his wife. Ron Paul ran up against the ceiling of support an anti-war civil libertarian can win in the GOP. Michele Bachmann had zero executive experience or relevant accomplishments of any kind. And Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, who came closest to beating Romney, have been heretical in their departures from conservative orthodoxy, siding with the Bush Administration on behalf of spending excesses and previously supporting an individual mandate in health care. They're also, for different reasons, polarizing and unlikeable, and Gingrich is prone to rambling on about radical schemes like granting statehood to a not yet built moon colony. Plus he cheated on two wives and conspicuously lavishes the third with Tiffany's jewelry when he's not influence-pedaling for Freddie Mac. And did I mention that his Republican colleagues hate him?
3) Jon Huntsman, whose governing record in Utah is more conservative than Mitt Romney's Massachusetts record, was never able to win any support from the GOP's conservative base, because its voters ultimately care less about the substance of a candidate's record than their capacity for throwing out red meat rhetoric and signaling tribal solidarity with culture cues and dog whistles. To be fair, he is arguably a candidate who'd have done better if he campaigned differently.
4) As a whole, Republican primary voters, who last nominated John McCain, are not nearly as conservative as they're made out to be.
5) In 2008, the GOP's right flank threw its support behind Mitt Romney as the conservative alternative to John McCain. It's no wonder that he enjoyed an advantage four years later as he restarted a campaign that had been in dormancy all along.
The notion that Rick Perry or Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann or Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum would be the nominee, had they only cobbled together "a more professional operation," ignores all the substantive reasons for their failures, and vastly overestimates the capacity of behind-the-scenes political operatives to drive election results. Were the GOP to buy into that theory of the primaries, they'd prepare for the next go round by making sure that the most conservative candidates hired skilled staffers to run their campaigns.
Does anyone think that's where they should focus?
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