The Importance of Field Trips
February 19th, 2012

From the American Prospect: “However, the media couldn’t predict how bad a candidate Romney would be.”


Look, there are plenty of perfectly good reasons to have supposed–and even to suppose today–that Romney had/has a fair chance to win the nomination. (I’ve always thought his odds were somewhere in the neighborhood of 2-in-5.) But anyone who has ever spent 30 minutes watching Romney interact with voters on the stump will have noticed how bad he is at retail politics. It is, literally, the second thing you notice about him in such settings.

The first is the hair, obvs.

He may be great in a board room and awesome with donors and really good with advisors and other professionals. On paper, he’s amazing. And that’s why the people who have tended to see him as inevitable have tended to be analysts who don’t do much reporting from the field. What has struck me since 2008 is that Republicans like to bag on John Kerry, with good reason. But on the stump Kerry was an infinitely more gifted campaigner. This isn’t to say that I’d prefer Kerry to Romney for anything–president, dog-catcher, neighbor. Only to suggest that if you believe that native political skill is an important predictor of electoral success (which I do), then it is difficult to watch Romney up close and believe in his inevitability (which I have not).

One other note, per Ben Domenech at Ricochet: If Romney loses the nomination and if the eventual GOP nominee loses to Obama, there will indeed be recriminations from the three Republican die-hards who were not on the Romney payroll. But I don’t think they’ll carry much weight for the following reason: The primary case made by most, though not all, of Romney’s media supporters was utilitarian. They argued not that Romney was uniquely qualified for the presidency and that his election would advance unique, important agendas of policy and ideology. No, instead they argued that Romney’s electability was his chief credential. Well, if Romney can’t beat Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, then it will mean that this primary rationale–“electability”–was a mirage.

That’s the problem with arguing on such practical grounds: If it turns out the candidate can’t deliver, then his supporters have no one else to blame.

  1. TubbyLover69 February 19, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    I’m not sure it’ll be so hard for Romniacs (rhymes with “insomniacs”) to handle that argument. “Electability,” they’ll say (as Mike Murphy has been saying into any live mic in the tristate area) is shorthand for “general election electability.”

    The argument would be something like: Look, the GOP base turns out. It just does. Doesn’t matter who the candidate is. They turned out like gangbusters for John McCain. And they hated his guts.

    If Repubs want to win, they have to get a candidate who can move the middle. And Romney was the only guy with a plausible background and temperament to do so. But if the base won’t allow a candidate who could appeal to the middle, then it forecloses the possibility of a general election win. No matter how you cut it, you can’t get to [50.0% + 1 vote] unless you go outside the base. Them’s the maths.

    Maybe that’s right, maybe it’s wrong. But it’s not an implausible argument, is it?

  2. REPLY
  3. Anonymous Mike February 20, 2012 at 10:28 am

    The funny thing about electability is that Romney hasn’t yet demonstrated his ability to win elections. Okay perhaps his winning percentage isn’t approaching the Mendoza Line but he’s starting to sound like that highly touted 5-tool, can’t miss prospect who seems unable to hit the curve ball or show why he’s deserving of the hype and needs to go back to AAA…

    … if you went back to 1/20/2009 and predicted that come February 2012 Romney would be one of the leaders for the Republican nomination you would get alot of agreement though you would probably get busted for picking chalk. If you then predicted that Romney might be a leader but had yet to pull away from likes of Ron Paul, Gingrich, and Santorum you would be laughed out of the room. The only reason those 3 are still in the race, let alone stealing states from Mitt, is that Romney has a hard time being electable.

    I mean what has Gingrich done since his putsch-ridden Speakership 13 years ago? Santorum six years since his double-digit loss in his home state? I mean their resumes just sort of stopped so if the Romney 2012 campaign has done anything it has forced us to consider how Gingrich or Santorum might fair in a general election.

    Show some passion and frickin’ leadership . You cannot win the swing vote in the country by being a big pile of mush – the only thing that choose to be in the middle of the road are moderates and road kill but then again I repeat myself.

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  5. Nedward February 21, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    Anon Mike, very well put. TL69: also achingly correct. If Romney is already manifestly terrible at shaking babies and kissing hands, and providing routine pithy explanations of his policy positions that don’t distract from the base concerns & piss everyone off, how’s that bode for Pres. Romney? We’re to think he’ll suddenly shapeshift into El Entrenador Supremo once he gets in 1600 but perhaps he’ll merely get rolled every week of his single agonizing term. Politics is a popularity contest. Is it unfair to ask whether Beltway consultant creatures are playing up the Electability(tm) just to ease their own job hunting prospects come 2013?