In the GOP nomination fight, Mitt Romney’s viability has been considered almost a foregone conclusion. Columnists such as David Brooks, Ann Coulter and David Frum have touted Romney as the only candidate capable of unseating Obama. Even Romney’s more conservative supporters have usually relied on Romney’s electability to win supporters away from more conservative alternatives. However, Romney’s electability is not as certain as it seems. For one, Romney has not been able to win a large amount of support within his own party. Despite hitting the campaign trail well before his opponents, Romney’s support still hovers at 25%. For all of his efforts, Romney’s nomination is still opposed by 75% of his own party, not a great number for a candidate who is supposed to unite his party come general election time and hardly proof positive that he has the nomination locked up.
Romney’s supporters usually argue that Mitt is the only candidate capable of winning over Independents and beating Obama in the general election. Romney does have good poll numbers against Obama in a hypothetical general election match-up. Unfortunately, such polls this early are usually meaningless. In January of 2008, John McCain was leading Barack Obama by as much as 12 points in a hypothetical match-up. Early polling in 2004 showed John Kerry ahead of George W. Bush by as much as 7. Furthermore, the idea that more liberal Republicans can win over Independents better than conservative Republicans is empirically denied. The Tea Party influenced GOP won 55% of moderate votes in 2010. The GOP only earned the support of 43% of Independents when the “electable” John McCain was running in 2008. In swing states, Tea Party candidates do very well among self described Independent/Other voters. In 2010, Tea Party candidates in the swing states of Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio captured a majority of self-described Independent/Other votes. In Florida, conservative Tea Partier Marco Rubio trounced liberal Republican turned Independent Charlie Crist among Independents 51% to 38%. The equation that moderate Republican=Independent support simply does not add up.
The biggest problem I see with Romney’s supposed electability is his inability to fire up the conservative base of the party. If the base decides it won’t knock on doors or make phone calls for Romney, he will have a very hard time getting elected. Worse, if the base flat out refuses to vote for Romney like it did in for McCain, Romney won’t stand a chance. Maybe this won’t happen and Romney could still win. Unfortunately, counting on the base to hold their nose didn’t work for John Kerry in 2004, it didn’t work for John McCain in 2008. Can it work for Mitt Romney in 2012?