Editor's Note: This column was authored by Matt Mackowiak, the president of Potomac Strategy Group LLC.
Mitt Romney = John McCain.
The 2008 political environment differs from 2012. In 2008 it was Bush fatigue. McCain survived the primary; he did not win it. Everyone around him imploded. There was no tea party. Compromise and maverick tendencies were more acceptable then.
In 2012, the Republican Party will almost certainly nominate a conservative, whether it wants to or not.
Primary campaigns are about enthusiasm. There is little evidence of any enthusiasm for the 2012 presidential candidacy of Willard Mitt Romney anywhere outside of New Hampshire or the immediate Romney family or campaign staff.
The morning tip sheet “The Note”, which is produced each morning by ABC News, had the following trite headline on Oct. 4: “If Obama and Rick Perry are Losing, Why Isn’t Mitt Romney Winning?”
This is the salient question that defines the current presidential campaign.
Mitt Romney, the son of a presidential candidate, has been running for president since at least 2006, when he decided not to seek reelection after his sole term as Massachusetts Governor ended. In the 2008 campaign, he learned many hard lessons, spent heavily from his personal fortune and was easily defined as a “flip flopper,” a tag which has stuck. McCain and Mike Huckabee tag teamed to successfully prevent Romney from winning the nomination.
Today, as then, conservatives are understandably wary of Romney. He is not one of them. He was pro choice from 1957 to 2003. He boasted that he would be better on gay rights than Ted Kennedy when he challenged him for the U.S. Senate in the 1990s. He signed a health care reform bill as Governor of Massachusetts that was the template for Obamacare, with his former opponent, Kennedy, standing behind him cheering and smiling. He’s voiced concerns about the human “cause” of global climate change. He raised taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars as Governor, as the New York Times recently chronicled and anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist confirmed. The list goes on.
In full disclosure, I have financially contributed to Perry’s campaign. However I also opposed his reelection for Governor in 2010 when my former employer unsuccessfully challenged him in the Republican primary.
Romney’s second bid for the presidency is best summarized by the following: he has a high floor and a low ceiling. For most of 2011 he was the national frontrunner, until August 13, when Perry seized the moment in Charleston. Did Romney falter? No. His support has always been narrow and shallow. As CNN’s Peter Hamby wryly noted this week, Romney has polled below 26% nationally in all but three polls this year. This is the very definition of a weak frontrunner.
There is little enthusiasm for Romney anywhere but in New Hampshire, where he and his wife live on Lake Winnipesaukee; it’s a state where 80 percent of the electorate is covered by the Boston media market.
Perry won national attention immediately and now is being made to survive the national media’s proctological exam. His impressive $17 million seven-week haul guarantees his campaign’s survival and longevity. Now, if he can perform only slightly better in the next two televised debates (Oct. 11 and 18), he will be seen by many as a formidable “Comeback Kid”.
The Republican primary electorate desperately wants to beat Obama. But they also want to be inspired and enthusiastic about their nominee after feeling as though they had to hold their noses for McCain in 2008. Do they have to choose between heart and head? Between electability and desirability?
The list of potential Republican nominees in 2012 who passed on running is long and distinguished: Mike Pence, John Thune, Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Jim DeMint, Chris Christie, and now Sarah Palin. The field is set. There are now two choices.
The primary calendar is moving up. Iowans will likely caucus as early as late December and as late as Jan. 3, less than three months away. Filing deadlines for ballot positioning in early states begin at the end of October.
Republican primary voters need to wake up. There is no white knight. There is no Ronald Reagan. We have a binary choice for our Republican standard bearer: Romney and Perry.
Why not Herman Cain?
Cain has rocketed into the first tier due to his ability to connect, his impressive business experience, his outsider status, his compelling personal story and his simple and memorable 9-9-9 economic plan. He is not, however, running a serious campaign. Cain is instead, either by choice or by circumstance, engaged in a civic exercise. In the real world of national politics, campaigns matter. Cain is a feel good candidate with a bright future as a paid speaker, author, media host or national political figure. But he is not running a serious effort. Need proof? He’s now embarking on a multi-week book tour, instead of visiting all-important Iowa, which he will next visit November 19, a week before Thanksgiving. His campaign is not serious and cannot win.
So it’s Perry and Romney. If it were Perry and McCain, who would win?
Truly a time for choosing.