Thursday, June 2, 2011

Chait/Cohn on Romney

I've been enjoying a great back-and-forth between Jonathans Chait and Cohn over the Mittster*, and I think I've finally figured out why I think Chait is overstating Romney's difficulties. I'm going to pull out three quotations, and then talk about it a bit.

This [that is, health care] is not just an issue that he has taken a bad political position on, like John McCain and campaign finance reform. It’s an issue fundamentally anathema to the party, one universally regarded as the breaking point between freedom and tyranny.
Romney resembles Joe Lieberman, who rode the momentum of his 2000 vice presidential run to lead the Democratic polls through 2002 and 2003. But Lieberman was never going to win his party’s nomination in 2004—he was simply too out of step with its mood.
And then, on Romney vs Pawlenty:
One way I disagree with you is in your equivalence between different kinds of flaws. These flaws matter only to the extent that Republican primary voters believe they matter. When a massive portion of the Republican communication apparatus is driving the message that Romney is an ideological heretic, then fellow candidates’ attacks on Romney will resonate.
OK. Here's the deal: I mostly agree with the third segment, for most issues. I believe, however, that health care and the individual mandate is, in fact, one of those issues. Is it "regarded as a the breaking point between freedom and tyranny" by most Republicans? Yes, I suppose it is -- but not because of some deeply held belief, but only because they're being told it is. They use apocalyptic language about it? Well, of course they do; they use that kind of language about everything (including climate, unfortunately for Pawlenty). Including, by the way, campaign finance when it was being used against McCain.

But that doesn't make Romney anything like Holy Joe. What Republicans find horrible isn't health care reform, or exchanges, or the individual mandate -- what they find horrible is Barack Obama's health care reform. And that, Romney has no problem at all opposing. Lieberman's case is different. First of all, he actively supported the policy Democrats didn't like -- and second of all, Democrats really did oppose the specific policy.

Now, I certainly do believe that health care is something of a problem for Romney, but I don't at all believe that it's the reason that many party leaders are wary of him, and others are strongly opposed. I think many conservatives basically believe, as Cohn and Chait do, that he's not really one of them. That's a serious problem. Whether it's fatal, however, depends -- as it did for John McCain four years ago -- on the opposition. If it turns out that Tim Pawlenty just won't catch fire with the rank-and-file (and if Rick Perry doesn't get in), Romney might be the only viable horse to ride, and if he is most of them may well hop aboard, perhaps reluctantly, rather than winding up with a disaster of historic proportions.

Sure: some Republican purists would rather lose with Bachmann or Palin or Roy Moore than have a shot of winning with Romney. But a lot of Republicans have strong incentives to nominate at least a somewhat viable candidate. Yes, they would rather find someone who looks like a winner and is a true believer, or at least can more plausibly pretend to be. But if there's no one like that by the turn of the calendar year, they may find that sticking Mitt is as good an option as they have.

*(Update: Edited title to correct spelling. TNR's Jon Cohn, not WaPo's Jon Cohen. Had it right in body, wrong in headline. Ugh. Sorry, All)


  1. I think you say "in fact" where you mean "not":

    "the individual mandate is not one of those issues", right?

  2. Clarifying: Chait thinks that most issues don't really matter to voters unless party elites make a fuss. I agree -- and believe, contra Chait, that health care is one of those issues that won't matter to voters unless party elites make a fuss about it.

    The exception would be someone who explicitly supported Obama's health care plan. But that's not Romney.

  3. For all the talk of how weak and uninspiring the Republican presidential field is, in Romney, Pawlenty and Huntsman they have 3 candidates who have public records that are arguably as accomplished as Clinton, Edwards and Obama's were four years ago for the Democrats, no?

  4. I'd actually agree re: Romney, Pawlenty and Huntsman's public records; if the GOP nomination fight were a 3-way race between those three, I'd be a lot less alarmed by the Republicans. But Huntsman had exactly *one* supporter in the most recent Iowa poll, and Pawlenty routinely trails the likes of Herman Cain, Bachman, and Donald Trump in the polls. I don't see T-Paw catching fire (unless he's going to set himself on fire whilst motorcycle-jumping the Grand Canyon in his next Jerry Bruckheimer-esque campaign video ...), so that leaves Romney vs. the Crazies. My money's on the crazies, unfortunately ...

  5. Massappeal,

    I'd the conventional credentials are a bit less; Edwards was a presidential runner-up and VP nominee, and the first lady gig has to count for something. And of course that Dem field also had Biden, Richardson, and Dodd.


    If Pawlenty is the choice of a large segment of GOP insiders/activists/party broadly understood, then among other things he's going to raise a lot of money, and that's going to help at least potentially separate him from the Cains and Bachmanns. It could be that he'll just be a dud with actual voters, but money + endorsements is a formula that usually, although not always, gets positive results - but wouldn't necessarily this far out.

  6. Mitt is Dead, the anti-BO voters have moved on....a repeat of the NEWT scenario. The rest of the Beltway certified candidates are zombies too including Obama/Biden, Clinton and other insider puppets, they've just not realized it yet. These dead candidates will live a bit longer in the tiny brains of the dim Zombie Pundits; silly Sully, crappy Chait, kooky Krauthammer, Sarg Schultz, spittle flecked Matthews, etc., etc. The new paradigm is starting to become clear and the DC/NY dickweeds are no longer relevant!!! Wake up and smell the coffee. Real change is about to knock you out!


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