Feature

Romney: No longer the inevitable nominee

Gingrich now has a double-digit lead over Romney in Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida, and New Hampshire may not be a secure stronghold for Romney after all.

Don’t look now, said John Avlon in TheDailyBeast.com, but the presidential campaign of Willard Mitt Romney is fast “becoming a sinking ship.” With the first GOP primary less than a month away, Romney’s poll numbers are suddenly plummeting in key states, while those of Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and the race’s new front-runner, are soaring. Gingrich now has a commanding, double-digit lead in Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida, and is within four points in Romney’s expected stronghold of New Hampshire. “The Newt surge isn’t about Newt Gingrich,” said John Podhoretz in the New York Post. “It’s about Mitt Romney,” and his failure to close the deal with conservative voters. He didn’t help himself with last week’s now-famous interview on Fox News, in which he became peevish and agitated when asked to explain his shifting positions on his Massachusetts health-care plan, immigration, and other issues. Despite the “furious smile painted on his lips,” Romney essentially refused to answer, and acted as if he were a short-circuiting robot.

Team Romney is aware of the “Romney-bot” problem, said Robert Draper in The New York Times Magazine, but they’re “betting that in 2012, recession-weary voters want a fixer, not a B.F.F.” Romney’s immaculately groomed exterior, they say, “masks a voracious intellect” and a talent, honed over 25 years in the business world, for finding practical, successful solutions to real-world problems. Rather than try to make Romney something he’s not, the plan is to present him to voters as “exquisitely one-dimensional”—a robot, yes, but a robot equipped with exactly the right attachments and software to fix the economy. Given Romney’s success as a “turnaround artist” of struggling companies at Bain Capital, said Kathryn Lopez in NationalReview.com, Romney is eminently qualified to clean up Barack Obama’s mess, and free the private sector to start hiring again.

GOP voters don’t want to nominate an efficient technocrat, said Michael Tomasky in TheDailyBeast.com. They’re looking for someone who shares their visceral loathing of all that Obama represents—“an America of cities, Yankees, swells, swillers of pinot noir,” blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, and gays. As a tennis-club corporate preppie, Romney can’t convincingly give voice to conservatives’ conviction that they’re engaged in an apocalyptic battle over “America’s very soul.” And please don’t tell conservatives that the moderate Romney is more electable, said Steve Kornacki in Salon.com. They were told the same thing when the GOP nominated centrists John McCain and Bob Dole, only to see them lose in the general election. “They’ve seen his act before—and they know how it turned out.”

Oh, they’ll come around, said Ramesh Ponnuru in National Review. It will soon become clear that Gingrich’s “incendiary, grandiose, and abrasive” rhetoric—and his ugly marital history—would turn off independents. Romney, on the other hand, has developed a “reassuring” presidential mien. He’s the GOP’s best bet for unseating Obama. As for the fear that a President Romney would betray conservatives on taxes, abortion, and climate change, fear not: Congressional Republicans have moved solidly to the right, and Romney’s too smart to go “to war with the vast majority of his party.” If Romney can prove his staying power in “the rigors of a competitive primary,” Republicans will take a deep breath, and then nominate him. “My bet is that’s exactly what they’re going to do.”

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