This week, left-leaning pundits are still trying to convince themselves and everyone else that despite mounting evidence to the contrary, Mitt Romney may still lose. As far as I can tell there are three main theories, ranging from the short- to the longer-term focused and the more to less misguided.
First: not so much a theory as an obvious statement of political fact (one which Romney’s campaign can’t possibly have missed): South Carolina is Not New Hampshire. The corollary being that urbanite Mormons like Rom will do worse whilst red meat cowboys like Perry will do better.
It’s too early to tell exactly how tight it will be, but Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog has a useful analysis of the most recent polling data (and its reliability). An academic from South Carolina, writing in the Huffington Post, suggests that Romney’s team will need to play dirty to win in a state that likes and even expects rough campaigning, the implication presumably being that Romney doesn’t have the stomach for a nasty fight, and will do badly as a result.
Mitt might not win, and he certainly won’t win handsomely. The point is it doesn’t matter much: no candidate expects to win every single primary, and as I blogged the other day, Romney has very solid approval ratings amongst all Republicans, even the ‘very conservative’. Which brings us on to theory two.
Second: obscure and probably mistaken theories about the Republican Party delegate allocation process. Chatting to a friend yesterday reminded me why last minute drama at the party convention is such an appealing prospect: anyone interested in US elections wants to see the purest crystallisation of party politics, and a to-the-wire convention offers that.
It’s in the blood of the GOP, as well. The Republicans’ own founding father, Abraham Lincoln, was chosen as the party’s nominee only because of the shrewd manoeuvring at the convention in 1860. So you can understand why it’s an alluring fantasy receiving a fair amount of attention.
It probably won’t happen though. The key issue stoking the current ‘it won’t be decided until the convention’ position is the fact that the GOP has a more proportional system of allocating delegates to candidates than first-past-the-post (i.e. winner takes all). Chris Cillizza’s The Fix has an excellent breakdown of the theory…
By not allowing Romney to rack up big margins in early states, the argument goes, [the delegate allocation system] allows for a competitive delegate race in which second- and third-place finishers can keep it close. Keep in mind, Romney has only netted an eight-delegate lead with his two early victories.
…and the reasons it’s wrong. Many early primaries (Ohio, Michigan, Virginia) allocate the vast majority of their delegates on a district-by-district basis, using a winner takes all method, and states like Florida and – crucially – South Carolina that have already been ‘punished’ by the RNC for moving their primaries earlier are unlikely to be also forced to break with tradition and use a proportional approach. As Cillizza says: ‘A brokered convention might be a lot of fun in theory, but right now it’s just a theory’.
Third: Romney will win the nomination but lose the election because so many candidates have been intent on damaging his reputation in the process of trying to beat him. In particular (or at least most recently), the stench of easy-firing Wall Street capitalism could cling to Mitt as a result of his years at private equity firm Bain Capital and cause serious damage in this era of occupying things.
So for example you have the New York Times giving voice to gleeful Democrats, including senior Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod who dismisses the idea that by bringing these issues out into the open earlier, Romney is given more time to ready his defence in advance of the Barackattack.
And then there’s William Galston writing in The New Republic who suggests that if Romney can present a convincing counter narrative to combat this toughest challenge, he’ll be a formidable candidate (whether he can or not is another matter).
Time will tell, but it’s notable that conservatives are rushing to Romney’s defence. My own personal feeling is that things will soon go quiet as Gingrich and others feel pressure to shut the hell up in the interests of party unity. In the longer term, though, Bain could well be the gift that keeps giving for the campaign to re-elect the president.