Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor with the alliterative Stan Lee-inspired name, made the following ringing endorsement of presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Iowa:
“If you’re looking for a candidate who agrees with you on everything, buy a mirror,” Christie told a crowd of about 150 at the headquarters of the Kum & Go convenience store chain. “I’m out here to tell you that I’m supporting him because I believe he’s the best qualified person to be president, and I believe he’s the only Republican who can win.”
The Romney campaign’s concern is that GOP primary voters’ passion is drifting toward Newt Gingrigh, who is surging in recent polls of early voting states. This is problematic as Gingrich is a trainwreck of a candidate — saddled with the baggage of an aging drag queen going on a two-month cruise to the Bahamas. A polarizing figure, he regulars ranks as “Republican Democrats Least Want to Have a Beer With Unless It Contained Arsenic” and that includes George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, whose “folksy” charm he lacks. Considering that defeating the incumbent president would involve persuading a good number of the people who voted for Obama in 2008 to switch camps, that’s an issue.
Although Christie trumpets Romney’s electability, GOP primary voters have consistently rejected it at the polls. And while it will serve as no consolation to the former Massachusetts governor, the reality is that as fickle as primary voters have been with their passions — initially playing footsie with Michele Bachmann, then flirting with Rick Perry before moving on to Herman Cain — they have been consistent in their lack of amor for Romney.
I never really got why Romney was dubbed the front runner in the race. Maybe he bought the title from the media at a silent auction. He’s never boasted the double digit lead and sense of inevitability that Hillary Clinton possessed prior to Obama’s Iowa upset in 2008. There was also a lot of passion among Clinton supporters for their establishment candidate. They didn’t just want to win. They believed in her. Does anyone really believe in Romney?
Romney can probably blame Obama for his current predicament. Christie is currently singing a similar tune to those Clinton supporters who warned that Obama would never win in the general election, especially against likely nominee John McCain. This advice was ignored and Obama eventually triumphed. So conservatives now might think there’s no need to settle. Their dream candidate, once they get around to settling on him or her, could actually win.
That’s insane, of course, because as everyone but the staunchest right-winger realizes is that Obama had appeal to the mainstream, independent voters who ultimately decide elections. They are the ones who candidates spend the general election trying to convince. They voted for Reagan. They voted for Clinton. They voted for Bush. And they voted for Obama. Meanwhile, primary voters are usually registered members of their respective parties who would not cross party lines even if the oppossing candidate were Jesus Christ. That’s your base, though, and you’ve got to win them over first before you can make it to the general election.
Romney’s hope all along has been that the GOP base’s hatred of Obama is so great that they will overlook their antipathy for him and put him forward because he’s the most electable candidate. The flaw in this thinking is that the candidate with the limp base has never sealed the deal. That was McCain’s problem. It was also John Kerry’s, which might also be a case study for GOP voters: Democrats turned from Howard Dean toward the more establishment and arguably more electable Kerry, and it didn’t get them anywhere.
Obama can also rely on a fairly solid base. The GOP primary has been one long horror movie in 3-D that will prove more effective in getting Obama supporters to the polls than his most soaring speech. Is there some disappointment among the liberal base regarding Obama? Yes, but disappointment is dfferent from dislike. The former is usually reserved for your son who keeps bringing home women who pop their gum when they speak. You’ll still support him in the end. Dislike is what McCain faced in 2008 and Romney might face in 2012.
Looking back at the Democrat’s 2008 primary race, you could argue that a protracted, bruising path to the nomination is not necessarily fatal. However, I think that fit the Obama narrative. Romney can never lay claim to being the underdog. Clinton vs. Obama was historic. Romney vs. Anyone But Romney is hardly that, but I am glad I have my free pair of 3-D glasses.