Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Can the Long Slog Help Romney?

Mitt Romney is expected to win tonight in Illinois, and win big. It's a loophole primary, meaning that the presidential preference election is really just a beauty contest, with delegates selected directly. That is, the delegates will be on the ballot, and you can vote for Newt but then vote for Romney delegates. Anyway, I'd expect that if the polls are even close to correct, Romney will win the lion's share of the delegates, maybe close to a sweep (see the invaluable Josh Putnam for full details including the history -- as he says, it's called "loophole" because of long-replaced Democratic rules. Republican state parties, as always, have far more freedom to pick delegates however they want than Democratic state parties do).

I don't think I've made this point before, but while generally people have believed that the long slog is a disadvantage for Mitt Romney -- because he has to spend money now, and because he has to worry about very conservative voters who are sure to vote for him in November -- there's a flip side to that, too. First of all, as long as people are still reporting on these things, Romney gets lots of nights of being a winner. Granted, he's had a few losing nights, too, but overall more winner nights -- and if the nomination was over, he wouldn't be getting those. Moreover, ideological positioning does seem to matter, and while Romney has had to take issue positions which might hurt his perceived position, he gets to have weeks and weeks in which he's defined as the candidate of the moderates. Not to mention the other candidates practically calling him a RINO. That's how he wants to be perceived in November, and he's getting plenty of free publicity supporting the idea.

By the way, don't discount the possibility of a stampede after Illinois. I'm not making any predictions about it at this point, but if the delegates fall right for Romney tonight, it's going to be increasingly difficult for anyone to pretend that Romney's not going to get to 1144.


  1. Much as I personally dislike Romney, as well as personally like being cranky in this forum, I think this analysis is spot on. Romney was arguably in the unusual place of facing a lot of ideological headwinds; racking up a lot of winning days has probably helped dissipate those headwinds somewhat.

  2. There have actually been many commentators who have suggested that the long slog might benefit Romney, and the most frequent explanation involves mentioning the 2008 Democratic primaries and how they supposedly helped Obama's general-election prospects rather than hurt them. For various reasons, I think this argument is flawed.

    I have, however, felt for a long time that Romney is going to be viewed a "moderate" simply because of how he contrasts with his opponents, even though he's done just about everything possible to shed his moderate past both rhetorically and substantively. If you told someone in the 1990s that in the future Newt Gingrich would run for president but that the statement "We are only inches away from ceasing to be a free-market economy" would be uttered not by Gingrich but by one of his opponents who was deemed the "moderate" of the race, you'd have thought it was the lamest joke imaginable.

    When his rivals dub him "the Massachusetts moderate," they are of course--unwittingly or otherwise--helping him in the general election. But many of their other attacks, including the Bain Capital matter, have not helped him at all. Just the fact that his poll numbers among the general populace have dramatically plummeted over the past couple of months is strong evidence that the primaries are not helping him. Yes, some of it is voter dissatisfaction with the ugliness of the race as well as right-wingers who don't like Romney but will almost certainly fall in line by November. But the polls also suggest his image has taken a beating among independents and moderates. According to this article, Romney has the worst favorability rating of any major-party nominee in modern history--winners and losers alike.

    I personally think his hard-right turns on Ryancare and immigration are really big deals, and it will be hard for him to extricate himself from them even if he does 180 degree turns once he gets into general-election mode.

  3. Here's my take on all this:

    1) True general election swing voters are not paying attention at this point, so whatever is going on now won't matter in November.
    2) Romney is taking the most extreme conservative position on most issues and attacking his opponents from the right. To the extent that anybody who isn't a die hard GOP partisan is paying attention, the message they're getting is not at all that Romney is some kind of moderate.
    3) Media attention now doesn't matter in November (see point 1). The only media attention that will matter in November will be coverage of the conventions, coverage of the debates, coverage of the state of the economy, coverage of any huge campaign blunders made in October, and coverage of the candidates' responses to any major news stories that occur in the last few months of the campaign. What some candidate said in a victory speech after a March primary will have lost all impact within a matter of days and nobody will remember it by November.


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