Recently, the political interwoobs have coalesced into two distinct camps of thought with respect to the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination campaign. These thoughts are “Mitt Romney is going to win it eventually because nobody else can” and “Mitt Romney cannot win it because the base hates him.”
The pro-Romney argument (inasmuch as any of these arguments can be called “pro-Romney,” because most of the people advancing it don’t actually think that highly of Romney beyond “well, he’s not insane, I suppose”) is simple: the party elites are coalescing around Romney for lack of a better option so he will have the most money and, as in 2008, will be able to go the distance for as long as he thinks he can win, and Romney knows this is his last kick at the can because the GOP is not going to get more moderate any time soon. And to be fair to Romney, it’s not a terrible argument. He’s got about twenty to twenty-five percent of the primary vote, making him a leading candidate.
But I am more inclined towards the anti-Romney argument, based simply on polling numbers. With the exception of the Rasmussen poll which we can say is an outlier, Romney has never gotten more than 25% support in a poll. We have seen Michelle Bachmann and Donald Trump and Rick Perry and now Herman Cain all top the polls and Romney has consistently been in second or third place. It doesn’t matter what happens: as each of these potential candidates implodes because they are crazy or inept or choose not to run, their support evaporates, but Romney gets none of it as the disenchanted GOP base abandons their hopes for Candidate A and moves on to whomever is next. (At this point, when Cain inevitably fucks up – and he’s come close a couple of times – I think they’re left with Rick Santorum.) These people simply do not want to vote for Mitt Romney.1
If you look at it like this, then Mitt Romney cannot win the nomination. If his support within the party is capped at 30% (and that appears to be on the generous side even if you include everybody still quixotically supporting Jon Huntsman), what has to happen for him to win is that the remainder of the vote has to be split at least three ways and preferably four for the majority of the campaign. But that’s not going to happen: candidates will drop out as they start running out of money, and those candidates’ support will bleed to other not-Romneys. At some point, and probably before Super Tuesday, a not-Romney will have more support than Romney does. At that point, Romney loses.
The response to this argument is “Rudy Guiliani John McCain 2008 nobody knows anything!” And it’s true: politics is weird sometimes, and nobody knows anything for sure, and Mitt Romney has a ton of money behind him and money can do a lot of things, and yes, John McCain won the nomination in 2008 with worse poll numbers at a comparable point than Romney has now. But McCain’s field was different: there was no presumptive anti-McCain movement in the base, and McCain won two of four of the “first four” states including an extremely conservative one (South Carolina) and a fairly moderate one (New Hampshire), making him all things to all people, and in 2008 the GOP base was less conservative than it was now.
And if you assume that whichever Republican wins Iowa will have an advantage in the following primaries, which they probably will, then that is bad for Mitt Romney because Mitt Romney is not going to win Iowa – he’s skipping the state and starting his campaign in New Hampshire, where he can win. The not-Romney that wins Iowa will drain support from the other not-Romneys,2 and stand an excellent chance of winning South Carolina (another early state in which Romney will probably do poorly), and if they win both will become the presumptive not-Romney. And Mitt Romney can’t win if there is a single triumphant not-Romney, because the GOP base doesn’t want to vote for him.