If Mitt Romney Can't Attract Conservative Support, We May Need a Brokered Convention
GOP presidential hopefuls and conservative pundits alike have denounced the use of attack ads. Some of them have argued that those ads hurt the conservative cause and could lead to four more years of Obama. Are they right? I don't think so.
In an attempt to benefit politically from the growing displeasure with negativity, Newt Gingrich promised to run a "positive campaign" focusing on "big ideas," and he did that for awhile -- or should I say that he did it until it became obvious that Mitt Romney was distancing himself from the pack by using the attack ads that Professor Newt said he loathed. Romney handed Gingrich his head on a platter in Iowa, and the former Speaker of the House reverted to the more traditional style of campaigning. Gingrich won in South Carolina against overwhelming odds by going on the attack against the mainstream media, and he failed miserably in Florida partly because of a money deficit and partly because he was far more subdued than he was in South Carolina.
C. Edmund Wright, a writer and speaker with lots of real world experience, believes that negativity, particularly Mitt Romney's use of attack ads, are hurting Republican chances for winning the White House in 2012. Using a metaphor that conjures up images of Sherman's march through Georgia, he referred to Romney's "scorched-earth campaign":
The real story of the three results from Tuesday night is not that Rick Santorum picked up some wins -- though that is big. No, the real story is that three states held votes and nobody came. Almost nobody, that is...
[A]fter South Carolina's record-setting primary turnout, the Republican Party has now seen a total of five events in a row where turnout was down compared to 2008...
The answer is fairly clear. The candidates have forgotten about Obama. What has turned folks off is Mitt Romney's scorched-earth campaign, which has managed to unfortunately suck all the rest of the candidates into a circular firing squad of a childish food-fight that is of zero interest to the Republican base voter...
What Mitt Romney in particular and the entire party in general should understand from the past five contests is that this is an absolutely losing strategy in the long run. Obama will be easily beaten if the GOP has an excited base that donates and talks up the candidates and turns out and is aggressive about yard signs and bumper stickers and other iterations of intensity -- because it is positive intensity that attracts new voters.
I have mixed feelings about Wright's conclusions. I don't agree that attack ads are the problem because they have helped to demonstrate the candidates' abilities to stand up under pressure, and they have revealed important facts about their records in and out of public office. I also don't agree with his assessment that Obama can be "easily beaten." Defeating a sitting president is difficult under the best of circumstances, and besting an opponent with $1 billion to spend is a daunting challenge regardless of his positions on issues or his dismal performance record. But I do agree with Wright about one thing: the almost exclusive use of attack ads isn't helpful. Romney in particular needs to convince GOP voters that they can trust him not to betray them if he is elected president. Attack ads won't do that.
At this point, Romney should focus more attention on his conservative credentials, and you can bet that he has them. You can't run a successful private equity firm without applying the principles that conservatives admire. Romney also needs to explain what it was like for a Republican to be Governor of Massachusetts. Conservative voters can pick apart his record in "Taxachusetts" until he explains how difficult it is to nudge arguably the most liberal state in the nation to the right. If Romney had tried frontal assaults in the Bay State, he would never have been elected.
Republicans have legitimate reasons to be concerned about Romney's inability to gain strength, and as I said, the root cause of his problem is that conservative voters don't trust him so he needs to bare his soul. Romney should lay out his positions on abortion, gun control and the 2nd Amendment, the federal government's role in healthcare, debt and deficits, and our nation's drift toward European-style socialism, for example. So far, he hasn't done that well enough, but that doesn't mean that he can't.
Even though Rick Santorum had a great day last Tuesday, he has yet to undergo the kind of scrutiny that frontrunners attract. Both Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich have been where Santorum is now. Perry is back in Texas and Gingrich is fading to black. Can Santorum succeed where they failed? Maybe he can and maybe he can't, but this much is certain: Mitt Romney has undergone intense scrutiny and even vilification for years and like a Timex watch, he's still ticking. That should tell us something.
This is the bottom line: I think Mitt Romney has a better shot at beating Barack Obama than any other GOP hopeful in the race, but to win enthusiastic support, the kind of support that's required to capture the White House, he has to energize the Republican base. To do that, he needs to convince conservative voters that they should vote for him, not against his rivals. If he can't, he'll have a difficult time winning the GOP nomination, and he may lead us into a brokered convention. Candidly, if Romney can't attract conservative support, I think we may need a brokered convention.