Mitt Romney is charismatic, an excellent fundraiser, and a man who can genuinely claim to be an outsider in a year when the American people are sick to death of politics as usual in Washington.
Additionally, Mitt has an excellent political strategy for 2008, one that catapulted John Kerry to victory in 2004: win Iowa, win New Hampshire and then rely on the momentum of those two early victories to act as a slingshot to victory.
Could it work? Could Mitt Romney carry the Republican banner in the 2008 presidential race? Yes! Would that be good news for the Republican Party? Not so much. Let talk about why that's the case.
Like most Americans, I would happily walk into the voting booth and cast a vote for a Mormon to be President of the United States. Unfortunately, a significant block of Americans who consider Mormons to be part of a heretical Christian cult, rightly or wrongly, won't vote a Mormon into the White House.
For example, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll back in June of 2006 found that 37 percent of Americans said "that they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate." Similarly, in a February of 2007, USA Today poll, 24% of American adults flat out said that they would not vote for a Mormon who ran for the presidency.
Those numbers, which are none too cheery for Mitt backers become even more grim when you consider the very real possibility that many of the people who say that they won't vote for a Mormon may be Christians who typically vote Republican, but won't cast their vote for someone whom they consider to be part of a cult. This survey of Christians at ChristiaNet.com would seem to support that theory. 59% of the 2000 Christians surveyed "claimed they would not vote to elect a Mormon for president."
So far, Mitt has tried to deal with this issue by casting himself as a candidate friendly to religious voters and to my ears, he has done a pretty good job of it.
However, it hasn't worked so far and if he becomes the nominee, you can be absolutely sure that the mainstream media will use religion as a cudgel to beat him on a daily basis until the election. Nary a day would pass when you wouldn't see stories on "magic" Mormon underwear, Mormon discrimination against black Americans, Mormon polygamy, and anything else they can come up with. Day in and day out, we'd be treated to anti-Mormon guests on the cable news shows, anti-Mormon books, and even movies that portray Mormons as terrorists.
So, at the moment, roughly a quarter of Americans aren't going to vote for Mitt Romney because of his religion and given how the media will surely behave in 2008, we have every reason to think those numbers will only go up. Unfortunately, you simply cannot write off a quarter of the American public because of your religion and still win the presidency. That may not be fair, but it is something Mitt Romney has got to deal with effectively -- and soon -- if he wants to be President of the United States.
Whether it's because of the Mormon factor, his slipperiness on the issues (more on that in a moment), the fact that he's a Republican from Taxachusetts, the story about his taking a long drive with his dog on the roof of his car, an irrational dislike of people named "Mitt," or some other assorted factor or combination of factors, the American public is not warming up to Mitt Romney.
Once you get outside of Iowa and New Hampshire, where he has been spending much of his time and campaign war chest, Mitt's numbers are frighteningly bad.
Nationally, other than in August of this year, when Mitt surfed a wave of positive publicity about his victory at the Ames straw poll in Iowa, he has been mired right around the 9%-10% range in national polls. In fact, if you go all the way back to April of this year, you'll find that Mitt's national numbers are at about the same level. Just as a point of comparison, remember John McCain? You know, the guy everyone is saying can't raise money and has no chance to win? He has been -- and is still -- consistently outpolling Mitt Romney nationally.
Things get even worse for Mitt when you look at state polls against the Democratic contenders. Romney, like Giuliani, has been touting himself as a candidate who can give the Democrats problems in 2008 because he can compete with them in the blue states. However, for that strategy to work, the candidate has to be able to hold red states against a liberal Democratic nominee while he tries to bring more blue states into the fold. Rudy Giuliani, at least at this early point, has poll numbers that indicate he might be able to pull it off. Romney doesn't.
In fact, his numbers are much worse than those of Fred Thompson or Rudy Giuliani. How much worse? He actually ties Hillary in Kentucky and loses to her in Kansas and Oklahoma.
If the GOP has to struggle in 2008 to even hang onto red states like Kentucky, Kansas, and Oklahoma, we might as well just give up on retaining the presidency right now.
It's very difficult for Mitt's opponents to point out particular ideological positions of his that they have a problem with because he doesn't seem to have any firm ideological positions. You get the feeling that almost every position he holds today might change based on what office he's running for, what the polls say next week, or what audience he's talking to today.
While a little pandering to conservatives isn't such a bad thing or out of the ordinary -- all the candidates have done it to one extent or another -- Mitt has taken flip-floppery to positively Kerryian levels.
When Mitt ran against Ted Kennedy in 1994, he came across as a squishy RINO of the sort that you typically expect to be running for office in states like Massachusetts. Yet today, he sounds like a cross between Newt Gingrich circa 1994 and Rush Limbaugh. Did Mitt have a road-to-Damascus conversion to conservatism during that relatively short period of time or is he just pretending that he did to sucker conservatives into voting for him? The problem is that it's impossible to really know. The idea, I suppose, is that conservatives should get him into the White House and then we'll find out where he really stands.
And this is not just about abortion, where Mitt's position seems to have radically shifted, it's about a whole host of issues. He used to try to disassociate himself from Ronald Reagan and the Contract With America, but now he assures us that the Gipper and the Contract are close to his heart. He used to be pro-gun control and wanted nothing to do with the NRA, but now he's against gun grabbers and thinks the NRA is peachy. He came across as a member of the open borders and amnesty crowd whose position wasn't much different than that of John McCain on illegal immigration -- until it became a hot political issue -- and now he's running ads that make him sound like Tom Tancredo on the subject. Then there are the Bush tax cuts, embryonic stem cell research, and the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. There have been so many flips that the flops are still running about two blocks behind, trying to catch up.
Are these shifts genuine? Are they purely for politics' sake? Is Mitt Romney a conservative or is he a squish telling us what we want to hear while planning to take 3 or 4 steps back towards the middle once he feels less pressure to pander to the base? Probably the former, but there's no way to really know the truth. Do we really want a nominee in 2008 that we have this sort of questions about?
While Mitt Romney is certainly not all bad as a candidate, chances are he couldn't win a general election and even if he did, it would be difficult to know whether he would be a Reagan Republican or a Rockefeller Republican when he gets into office.