For months, we've heard the chattering class tell us that Mitt Romney was the only acceptable Republican nominee. He was the only candidate who could beat Barack Obama; he was the only one smart enough, savvy enough, and milquetoast enough to defeat Obama in a general election. While Newt Gingrich was too hot and Rick Santorum was too cold, Romney was the Goldilocks candidate, everyone's second choice.
The question now is whether Romney will be Americans' first choice.
He faces an uphill climb. President Obama rides at about 50 percent in the polls nationally, despite the fact that he has presided over the worst economy since the Great Depression, destroyed the possibility of a moderate Muslim Middle East for the next generation at least, and polarized Americans along sex and race lines. Obama has rammed national health care down our collective throat, and he has threatened openly to raise taxes -- and yet half of Americans are perfectly happy with him.
Meanwhile, Romney lags behind Obama in key swing states, according to the most recent polls. He has trouble with female voters -- Obama defeats Romney 57 to 38 percent among females as of this week -- and blue-collar voters. He leaves most conservatives lukewarm; the others he leaves absolutely ice cold.
So can Romney win?
His electability was always based on the notion that Republicans must win the independents. Romney, it was assumed, could appeal to the independents because he is not a social issues candidate. He's widely considered a manager rather than an ideologue. He's a pragmatist rather than a conservative. He's a "get things done" guy, largely void of vision but capable of putting America back on her feet. You won't hear him make a convincing case for American rights, freedoms and liberties -- but he'll sure make a solid case for fiscal reform of particular entitlements if the debt is unsustainable. That's not inspiring stuff.
For that sort of candidate to win, the incumbent must be perceived as a full-fledged extremist. Obama, it was safe to assume, would be seen that way by the American public. But the public has largely refused to cooperate. Thanks to a pliable public and a militant media, Obama is seen not as a radical but as a typical Clinton-esque, left-leaning moderate. Obama, in other words, has a solid lock on a large swath of the middle of the country.