Thanks to Conservative 'Issues,' Obama Now Holds All The Cards
In a world where Tiger Woods can lose by eleven shots to his playing partner on a Sunday at Pebble Beach and where Joe Paterno can be fired via cell phone for the actions of a former assistant coach, almost anything previously "unthinkable" can indeed happen. However, with that said, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see how President Barack Obama is not re-elected, potentially by a healthy margin.
This reality is not because of anything Obama has done to secure re-election, but rather because the Republican Party and the conservative movement have created a set of circumstances where the paths to defeating the president are now more difficult to find than an unemployed evangelical Christian in the South with a Mitt Romney bumper sticker on a foreign-made vehicle.
The clearest track to an Obama defeat since the primaries began has always been for Republicans to rally around Mitt Romney and then use his potential appeal to independent voters and unique connections to the key states of New Hampshire, Michigan, and Nevada to effectively block the president's path to 270 Electoral College votes.
It is now abundantly clear that this scenario is not going to transpire.
Thanks to Romney being forced to expend enormous capital to destroy a candidate (Newt Gingrich) whom the conservative base should have been able to quickly reject on their own by simply engaging in a routine smell test, and that candidate's ensuing vendetta against Romney and his career in capitalism, the presumed frontrunner has seen his personal ratings take a dive among the very swing voters on which his "electability" argument is based.
It has also become crystal-clear that Romney's support is too tepid to turn out when they are confident that it is unnecessary. Even more disturbing, it is also obvious from both exit polls and regional results that (even though no one seems to want to admit to it) evangelical Christians will simply not vote for a Mormon when they believe that they have another conservative alternative.
This double-whammy will make it impossible for Romney to run away with the nomination, especially when there is no motivation for any of the other three to drop out and because the conservative media has a profound incentive for the primary season to continue all the way to the finish. At best, in opposition to Sarah Palin's absurd and self-serving claims to the contrary, this means that Romney will emerge battered, bruised, and significantly weakened against Obama in the fall.
This also now means that Romney may very well not win the nomination at all.
Ironically, his systematic dismantling of Gingrich has sown the seeds of his own increasingly likely defeat. Not only has being forced to get his hands dirty harmed his own personal ratings, but these circumstances have opened up a giant passageway for Rick Santorum to surge into the "Not Romney" role.
The conventional wisdom has been that Santorum was less of a long-term threat to Romney since he lacks the money, organization and celebrity to compete, and because his real record is neither particularly "conservative" nor "electable." As is often the case, the experts were very wrong here.
In 2012, endorsements are about the only element which is more overrated than organization, and money/celebrity can be obtained literally overnight. Even more importantly, the Romney team apparently failed to realize that Santorum would be a much more troublesome target than Gingrich and that getting rid of him after Newt would be much more difficult than it would have been before him.
Other than endorsing Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey for U.S. Senate in 2004 and Mitt Romney for president in 2008, the "case" against Santorum is far more nuanced than that against Gingrich, and coming afterwards causes several complications for the Romney team.
First, in contrast to the many mortal sins of Newt, Santorum's transgressions seem rather venial in comparison. Second, while Newt is a decidedly unsympathetic figure, Santorum appears to be virtually virginal and taking him out will be somewhat like shooting Bambi; easily doable, but you are going to anger a lot of people in the process. Third, the "Not Romney" crowd now has every reason to believe that Santorum is truly the last option, and they are not likely to let go easily. Finally, coming after the attacks on Newt and following Santorum taking the lead in numerous key polls, the Romney attacks may be powerless because they will be seen as desperate and coming from a man with nothing else to offer but a maniacal desire to become president, no matter what it takes.
I simply don't see how the Romney team pulls this off, especially since their most effective argument for the nomination is "electability," and their attack strategy has already caused the difference between Romney and Santorum in the head-to-head polls with Obama to virtually evaporate. Like something out of "The Gift of the Magi," in order to win the nomination, the Romney team is being forced to give up the principal reason why he deserved it in the first place.
In short, it shouldn't be this way, but, as of today, the only way Romney becomes president is for him to win a bloody primary war and then have the economy be perceived as being in complete collapse. Even then, the general election would probably still be very close.
A more likely scenario is that Santorum continues to zoom past Romney, Gingrich finally (in the ultimate act of revenge on Romney) drops out, and Romney, stripped of his cloak of inevitability and electability, is toast. As impossible as it may be to believe (and much to the chagrin of Tim Pawlenty, who easily could have been in this position) Rick Santorum, who has spent years being largely shunned by the conservative movement, will likely be the Republican nominee for president.
Santorum, of course barring a catastrophe for Obama, would not win in November. He would be easily portrayed as too green, too extreme on social issues, and too prone to saying "wacky" things, to defeat Obama unless the president was all but a mortally wounded.
There are many people/elements to blame for this tragedy of the chance to limit Obama to one term being allowed to slip through our fingers. Here is a preliminary and partial list.
Newt Gingrich, who out of ego and a selfish desire for revenge, legitimized the dishonest attacks on Romney's financial career and character.
Sarah Palin, who in a selfish desire to maintain her own long-term relevance, convinced some conservatives that there was no harm in a long a bruising primary campaign (the reality is that this works only for Democrats who can then say to their friends in the media that in the general election any attacks are "old news," while for Republicans they become "legitimized").
Rush Limbaugh, who wrongly persuaded millions of conservatives that beating Obama will be relatively easy, that conservatism is all that is needed to do so, and that Mitt Romney could not be trusted to govern as a conservative.
Tim Pawlenty's financial backers, who stupidly allowed everything to be bet on a meaningless Ames straw poll and then lacked the foresight to see that all the old rules had changed and that Pawlenty was still extremely well-positioned to inevitably become the only electable "Not Romney" in the race.
The conservative media, which, out of either Limbaugh's delusions or a cynical economic desire to keep the primaries going and to have Obama re-elected to preserve their job security, have largely stifled the obvious reality that Mitt Romney (prior to the developments of the past few weeks) was the only declared candidate with a legitimate chance to beat Obama.
This might all sound like giving up on a football game in the second quarter when you are behind by only a touchdown, but that analogy is not valid here.
Instead, this is far more like a poker game where our side was dealt a straight but, because all the cards weren't all the same suit and the high card wasn't an ace, we decided to discard that promising hand, and have now ended up with a lowly pair of threes to go up against a charmed player like Obama.
I am not saying to give up (though part of me would like to see Santorum win and get crushed so at least those who purposely led us into this ambush would at least get exposed), but you certainly don't want to bet anything more than you absolutely have to.
Far too many conservatives have acted like they don't really want to beat Obama, and we are all likely to pay a very deep price for that.