At at time when there are inklings that political opponents of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney may be considering bowing to the demands of talk show (and de facto Republican Party strategist) titan Rush Limabaugh and other members of the GOP establishment on trimming criticism of Romney’s role at Bain Capital, the question is arising: is Romney indeed “inevitable” or is it that narrative spin? The answer: he increasingly looks inevitable — but it increasingly looks as if he will face a bumpy road to the nomination
One reason: Romney is great when he is scripted but gets in trouble when he isn’t. And nowhere was America’s partisan political hypocrisy out in full display in the silence from Republican partisans who made a huge deal out of Barack Obama’s use of a teleprompter. So did Romney when he won New Hampshire. But not a peep from those who suggested using a TelePrompTer showed an inability to think without reading script. No snark. No jokes. (This is why many independent voters remain independent voters, because the partisan political ballet is so tiresome.)
And Romney? If he and his crew think surviving Gingrich’s expected TV ad blitz in South Carolina– funded by a Gingrich allied group that got big bucks from a casino owner — would be enough, Romney & Co. need to think again. Now they face a call by Sarah Palin for Romney to prove a key assertion and to release his income tax returns:
Former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has called for Gov. Mitt Romney to release his tax returns, as well as the data that could substantiate his claim of having created 100,000 jobs as CEO of Bain Capital.
Romney has resisted releasing his tax returns, and his campaign has thus far refused to provide the hard proof to back up his claims about Bain.
“Governor Romney has claimed to have created 100,000 jobs at Bain, and people are wanting to know: is there proof?” Palin told Sean Hannity on Fox News.
That sounds like a line Barack Obama would use. (Expect him to use it).
Rick Tyler, former Gingrich aide and head of Newt Gingrich’s Super PAC, has already accused Romney of having created those 100,000 jobs in Asia and Mexico. Earlier this week, Big Government pointed out that Romney’s claim to have created 100,000 jobs contrasts with claims he made during his 1994 U.S. Senate campaign, when he claimed to have created 10,000 jobs at Bain. Romney retired from Bain Capital in 1999.
Palin said that Romney needed to come clean about his record, given the likelihood that Democrats would probe the tax issue and Romney’s tenure at Bain if he were to become the Republican nominee.
The former Alaska governor also told Hannity that she did not think it was inevitable that Romney would become the Republican nominee.
“The majority has not yet coalesced around one,” she said, adding that conservatives were still searching for the right “free market, pro-military” candidate to back.
But can Romney being stopped? Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics say there are only 10 days left to stop Romney. Some of the piece:
First, he squeaked to victory by eight votes in Iowa — or so the preliminary tally would suggest. Then he managed to meet expectations in New Hampshire with 39.3% and secured his preferred second place finisher, Ron Paul (23%). His main challenger in Iowa, Rick Santorum, finished far back at 9.4%. Most pleasing to Romney was the relatively weak third place showing of Jon Huntsman (17%), whose relations with Romney have been increasingly frosty.
The Huntsman result was perhaps the most surprising, because the news media had covered him extensively and declared him to be the hot candidate with momentum. But in the end, it turned out that he mainly attracted independents and some Democrats. Remarkably, among actual Republicans voting in the Granite State, Huntsman finished in last place among the major candidates (minus Rick Perry, who was a rounding error in New Hampshire). Just 10% of GOP voters picked Huntsman, according to exit polls. Romney, on the other hand, won nearly half (49%) of the self-identified Republicans. Full-fledged Republicans made up only 49% of voters; 47% called themselves independents and 4% said they were Democrats. In 2008, New Hampshire was the site of a more Republican-heavy primary — 61% self-identified as Republicans, while only 37% called themselves independents. The more ideologically diverse electorate was helpful to Ron Paul and, to a lesser extent, Huntsman.
After some additional analysis about the candidates and Romney they say this:
The campaign parade has already moved to the Palmetto State for the Saturday, Jan. 21 primary. Mitt Romney has been enormously fortunate that the only two candidates with substantial money and national backing — Gingrich and Perry — have faded to the point where his strongest remaining challengers may be Santorum and Paul, neither of whom is likely to expand much beyond a limited base. Moreover, all of the conservative candidates (save Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain) have survived to compete in South Carolina. This guarantees a continuing split of the anti-Romney vote, while only Huntsman might shave a few points off Romney’s total. Unless conservative leaders can manage to rally the troops around one anti-Romney candidate in the 10 days before South Carolina, Romney could achieve the same feat as John McCain four years ago. McCain won a mere 33% in South Carolina, defeating Mike Huckabee by three points, because Fred Thompson remained in the race long enough to split conservatives. The gathering conventional wisdom that Romney is very likely going to be the nominee also helps the frontrunner. South Carolina is proud of having picked the eventual GOP nominee every year since 1980, and the more obvious it is that Romney will carry the party’s standard, the more likely it may be that South Carolina voters will vote Romney to preserve their record.
Nonetheless, we acknowledge that South Carolina presents Romney with his most difficult environment of the first three states to vote. All of the candidates have enough money and troops to compete in South Carolina and there is no incentive for anyone to drop out. The fire will be trained mainly on Romney — and the heat isn’t generated just by money. The Palmetto State has a well earned reputation for dirty campaigning going back generations. Almost no statewide or presidential campaign has been immune from the scurrilous rumors that are floated about candidates….
Dirty campaigning in South Carolina may be the last stimulant in a surprisingly short campaign season. Should Romney win South Carolina, it will be extraordinarily difficult to beat him in Florida, where a decent campaign costs $7 million to $9 million at a minimum. Not many candidates can compete with Romney, and even Ron Paul is hinting that he may save his money for other states. Romney is also, apparently, the only contender to have banked thousands of absentee votes in the Sunshine State before South Carolina’s contest. If all goes well for Romney and he wins all the January contests, his opponents will not be able to argue convincingly that they have a credible path to the nomination.
At the same time, it is extremely rare for a non-incumbent to skate through the early contests without at least one bump in the road. No Republican has done it since Richard Nixon. If there is such an event for Mitt Romney, the bump might come in South Carolina.
And then there is what when I was in the news biz as a reporter I called the “journalistic hedge”:
We’ve all discovered in this strange presidential cycle that 10 days — the time between New Hampshire and South Carolina — is more than enough time for a candidate to rise or crater. No one interested in politics should take his or her eyes off the prize for a moment. We doubt the super-organized Romney forces are making that mistake, which is why their candidate has a real chance to end the effective battle for the nomination quickly.
But there is one factor working in Romney’s favor — something I have noticed this campaign season with almost every Romney appearance: Romney has evolved into a solid candidate who is ready for prime time.
After Romney won New Hampshire, The Daily Beast’s John Avlon wrote about Romney now being ready for the big time political scene. In his post, which should be read in full, he ended it this way:
Romney emerges from New Hampshire in a strong position to compete in South Carolina, with that state now entering must-win status for the candidates trying to position themselves as the conservative alternatives to the former governor—most notably Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Romney has his work cut out for him in the Palmetto State, where he earned only 15 percent of the vote and a fourth-place finish in 2008—but he benefits from a still-crowded field of six competitors.
Team Romney is increasingly focused on the general election. They know they have the money and organization to compete as long as it takes to get the required 1,143 delegates—and they are aiming for an unprecedented sweep of the January gauntlet states.
Romney’s victory speech—given while flanked by his family—directed its rhetorical fire squarely at President Obama, offering a preview of general-election contrasts—faith in free markets versus a failed presidency devoted to creating a European-style entitlement society—all while “saving the soul of America” in the process.
Some of the red-meat lines—like “President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial”—were not meant to stand up to logical scrutiny, but they achieved their intended straw-man effect for the pumped-up crowd. Other barbed lines—like “I want you to remember when our White House reflected the best of who we are”—implying that the current Oval Office occupant represents the worst of our nation—run the risk of alienating more people than they attract in a general election.
But overall, this was clearly a candidate, a crowd, and a campaign ready for prime time. Mitt Romney’s moment has finally arrived, and his team is ready to roll through the early primary states, racking up wins and consolidating support through competition. After his first decisive and broad-based win, Mitt Romney can start to credibly make the case that he can unite his party after all and take the fight into the fall.
Yet, the nagging questions persist: even though Republicans seem to only see teleprompters when a Democratic President uses them and somehow don’t see them (or someone writing notes on her hand) if someone with an “R” in front of their party affiliation uses one, news stories noted that Romney used a teleprompter to make sure this speech was given exactly as prepared. He has also shown a Joe Bidenesque tendency to put his foot with his expensive shoes in his mouth. Meanwhile, some Republicans have expressed fears about the seeming lack of political foresightedness and nimbleness his team displayed in the Bain Capital controversial
But wait: now there are reports Romney is readying a Bain counterattack.
Where will this end? Realistically speaking, stripping away the hedges and niceties:
If Herman Cain had a “nine nine nine” plan, then those remaining in the race likely have “zero zero zero” chances of realistically overtaking an increasingly confident and politically skillful Romney, given his organization, increasing establishment report, huge campaign fund, and the mega-money bankrolling independent groups backing him. A new poll shows Romney with a slight lead in South Carolina, only three points ahead of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Of course assertions such as the above are often proven false.
But at this point if you had to place money in Vegas, a good bet would be that there will be some turmoil, some controversy but at the end Mitt Romney will be delivering an acceptance speech at the Republican convention.
And when he delivers it, Mitt Romney would be the most unloved Republican Party presidential nominee since former Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole. But a smile from Rush Limbaugh could suddenly change that…
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.