[Posted by Karl]
John Hawkins of Right Wing News thinks so, but most of his arguments are unpersuasive. He asks:
Doesn’t it say something that GOP primary voters have, at one time or another, preferred Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and now even Ron Paul (In Iowa) to Mitt Romney?
It does. On the other hand, doesn’t this say something?
Newt Gingrich (62%) and Mitt Romney (54%) are the only two candidates Republicans say would be acceptable presidential nominees from their party, emphasizing the degree to which the GOP race has narrowed down to these two men at this juncture. A majority of Republicans say each of the other six candidates measured would not be acceptable nominees.
Indeed, with Newt coming under increased scrutiny, those numbers might favor Romney today. Doesn’t it say something that a plurality sees Romney as the candidate most likely to beat Obama, or that head-to-head polls consistently show Romney faring better against Obama than his rivals?
Hawkins then discusses Romney’s moderate image:
To some people, this is a plus. They think that if conservatives don’t like Mitt Romney, that means moderates will like him. This misunderstands how the process of attracting independent voters works in a presidential race. While it’s true the swayable moderates don’t want to support a candidate they view as an extremist, they also don’t just automatically gravitate towards the most “moderate” candidate. To the contrary, independent voters tend to be moved by the excitement of the candidate’s base (See John McCain vs. Barack Obama for an example of how this works). This is how a very conservative candidate like Ronald Reagan could win landslide victories. He avoided being labeled an extremist as Goldwater was, yet his supporters were incredibly enthusiastic and moderates responded to it.
I do not know where Hawkins got any of this. In the first instance, Romney appeals less to moderates than you may think. Hawkins likely exaggerates the impact of ideology on voter choices, ignoring the fundamentals. Reagan won in 1980 in large part because the economy was terrible. Had the GOP nominated George H. W. Bush instead, Anderson likely would not have run as an independent and Bush would likely have garnered more votes than Reagan. That doesn’t mean the GOP should have nominated Poppy Bush; far from it. But Reagan could run against a lousy economy, while Goldwater was running against Johnson in a booming economy. Pure independents are the most likely to vote on the state of the economy; the argument that enthusiasm affects election outcomes is not supported much by the data.
Hawkins notes Romney is a proven political loser. He doesn’t add “in Massachusetts.” Not too many Republicans win in Massachusetts. Romney did and ended unpopular, suggesting he was too conservative for the land of Ted Kennedy and Barney Frank. But being Mitt means getting to be a double-loser to Hawkins: insufficiently conservative and not good at winning statewide in a liberal state. Hawkins makes a related argument that Romney will be hammered for his tenure at Bain Capital. I have no doubt Democrats will make those attacks, but they likely play stronger in places like Massachusetts than elsewhere (how they play in states like PA and OH is a valid point). Presumably, if Romney is the nominee, he will point out that some Bain acquisitions grew (e.g., Domino’s Pizza), while others were downsized, and then launch into a spiel about rightsizing bloated government bureaucracies, something Obama has manifestly failed to do.
Hawkins claims Romney will run poorly in Southern states, but then delves into GOP primary numbers, which is not the same as electability in the general. Currently, Romney runs as well as or better than Gingrich against Obama in swing states, including those mentioned by Hawkins.
Hawkins maintains Romney will lose his advantages in fundraising, organization and establishment support in a general election. That’s largely true, but not an argument that a NotRomney who has been unable to match Romney in these areas is thus a better choice in terms of electability. Hawkins also claims Romney has been avoiding serious scrutiny, which is inaccurate.
Hawkins notes “the Mormon factor” and cites a poll suggesting it’s a problem. He does not cite the Pew poll suggesting it’s a bigger problem for Romney in the primaries and not so much in a general election. Indeed, the poll Hawkins cites makes clear that Mormonism is a problem for Democrats.
Finally, Hawkins notes Romney is a flip-flopper, asking “Is it just me or didn’t George Bush beat John Kerry’s brains in with the “flip flopper” charge back in 2004?” It’s not just Hawkins who thinks that, but again, the data doesn’t really support that theory. As Jay Cost notes, Kerry did a better job at peeling away voters from the “other” side than Bush did.
In sum, there is not a “plethora of evidence” that Romney’s electability is a myth. That does not mean that Romney must be the nominee. Indeed, as noted earlier, the challenger’s ideology matters maybe a percent or two — important in a close election, but most things are important in a close election. Romney is not my ideal candidate, but none of the candidates is my ideal candidate. At the moment, to paraphrase Philip Klein (on Twitter), Romney is the only candidate showing up to the job interview wearing a suit. With Gingrich sliding, conservatives have to hope some NotRomney can up his or her game soon.