Should the Republicans have nominated Romney?

I posted an earlier version of this piece at Bleeding Heartland shortly after the third presidential debate. Now that the scale of Barack Obama's landslide is clear, who's up for a little scenario spinning on a slow Saturday morning?

Join me after the jump to consider whether Mitt Romney might have lost less badly on Tuesday.

When John McCain won the Florida primary, putting him well on the way to sealing the Republican nomination, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. I had been hoping the GOP would nominate Mitt Romney. Not only did many religious conservatives deeply distrust Romney, I felt he would be easy to expose as a phony say-anything-to-win kind of politician. In contrast, McCain was a media darling with a "maverick" image, even though he also flip-flopped on many issues while seeking the presidency.

Many factors favored the Democrats this year, in particular George W. Bush's rock-bottom approval ratings and the lopsided right direction/wrong track numbers every pollster has found. But it seemed to me in February that the Republicans had nominated their strongest general-election candidate, while our two remaining primary contenders seemed to me to have big hurdles to overcome in the general.

When McCain frittered away the spring and early summer, reshuffling his campaign staff several times, I started to realize he was a weaker candidate than I'd previously believed. Watching McCain's excrutiatingly long non-answer on whether insurance companies that cover Viagra should also cover birth control pills, I remember thinking that Romney would never have fumbled that question so badly. He would have had a slick reply along safe Republican lines, such as, "I don't think the government should be in the business of telling private insurers what to cover."

After Obama picked Joe Biden as a running mate, Republican talking heads were all over the lack of executive experience on the Democratic ticket. Of course McCain doesn't have any either, and his running mate was mayor of a small town (where the city manager did most of the work) and then a governor who abused her power less than halfway through her first term. Romney had a legitimate claim to executive experience, having run a large company and then a state government. Would he have made as dumb a VP pick as McCain did? I doubt it. And without Palin as McCain's running mate, would Obama have had a chance in Florida? Maybe not.

Consider the emergence of "Joe the Plumber." McCain mentioned him about 20 times during the final debate, apparently without sufficient vetting. It turns out that Joe the Plumber is not a licensed plumber, owes back taxes, and is a registered Republican (not an independent). Oh yeah, and he's also related to Charles Keating's son-in-law (as in "Keating Five" Charles Keating). Would the Romney campaign have staked so much on "Joe the Plumber" without doing due diligence? I don't think so. But the McCain campaign plowed ahead, continuing to cite Joe the Plumber at campaign rallies and sending Joe the Plumber bumper stickers to supporters.

Each time McCain lost a debate to Obama, I thought that Romney would have done better on the stage. Sure, he was a big phony, but he carried himself with more confidence and spoke with more authority in his voice. Perhaps Obama would have won all the post-debate polls anyway, but I think Romney would have made it closer.

I also think Romney would have been a stronger voice for Republicans on economic policy in light of this fall's meltdown in the banking sector and stock market. Here's a Republican National Committee ad from mid-October, pounding Obama on his inexperience in connection with the current financial crisis:

Obama's relative inexperience is a vulnerability, but he has handled himself well this fall and done a good job answering the economic questions in all three debates. McCain has seemed erratic by comparison. Romney would have been able to play his "I know the business sector" card, and I doubt he would have tried to get the first debate delayed, which looked like an odd stunt from McCain.

Along the same lines, watch this ad McCain released the day after the final debate and try to tell me Romney wouldn't have been more credible delivering this message:

Romney would have looked more confident and sounded more polished. Also, Romney's biography would make it easier to believe he had a plan to restore people's savings, jobs and financial security. With a stronger message on the economy, perhaps the Republicans could have held on to Indiana and Ohio.

Most important, Romney has not been in Congress for the last eight years, voting with President Bush more than 90 percent of the time. McCain has, which was the focus of this ad Obama released right after the third debate.

By the way, the Service Employees International Union put together a very clever ad on the theme of McCain being the same as Bush (or worse).

I acknowledge that Romney probably would have lost the general election. The economic indicators and trends in voter registration point to a Democratic wave. Romney's past history of supporting abortion rights and even gay rights would have created major problems with part of the Republican base. Perhaps that would have caused more evangelicals to stay home, but I think with the right running mate, Romney could have mitigated this problem.

Romney's demagoguery on immigration during the Republican primaries might have given Obama an even more overwhelming lead among Latinos.

Also, perhaps there would have been great resistance to electing a Mormon president. (For what it's worth, I think Romney would have become the GOP nominee if not for his religion.)

But McCain just ran an incompetent campaign, and the economic issues, where McCain is weak, have more salience now than the military and security issues that are allegedly McCain's strengths. It's hard for me to believe that Romney would have done worse against Obama.

What do you think?

Tags: 2008 elections, Barack Obama, Economy, John McCain, Mitt Romney, president (all tags)



Re: Should the Republicans have nominated Romney?

Romney's appointment would not have made any difference. Actually, it could have made things worse especially among the Hispanics. He would have lost by an even bigger margin among Hispanics and his idea of throwing out all the illegals would have led to an exodus of legals and illegals alike aggravating the already deteriorating housing problem.

by Boilermaker 2008-11-08 05:04AM | 0 recs
Re: Should the Republicans have nominated Romney?

It's funny because my thought process throughout this election was nearly identical.  During the Republicans Primaries I was praying Romney would some how win the nomination (although I always knew it was unlikely).  Once McCain won I thought the Republicans had nominated the only candidate with any real shot of winning, which was a reasonable assumption at the time because McCain had not yet revealed his incompetence in running a national general election campaign and the financial market had not get melted down.  Looking back I think Romney would have certainly been stronger than McCain for the reasons you cited.  With that said this was a Democratic year and Obama ran a brilliant campaign.  Obama still would have beaten Romney comfortably just not as comfortably.

by blueryan 2008-11-08 05:14AM | 0 recs
Re: Should the Republicans have nominated Romney?
  In a time when the Republican brand is so off-putting, I think the "Maverick" theme was really important.  Maybe Romney--as a governor of a blue state--could have touched into that theme as well, but then he would have two strikes against him with his base.  
  The Republicans just need to breed a slicker maverick.
by whomever1 2008-11-08 05:16AM | 0 recs
Re: Should the Republicans have nominated Romney?

I am convinced only McCain could have done as well as he did...

by obama4presidente 2008-11-08 05:32AM | 0 recs
Re: Should

After the market crash that was IMHO just one more example of the GOPs lack of interest in governing i just dont see how any republican could have won.  In fact any of out three top Dem candidates would have won this year.  There was clearly a throw the GOP out narrative that could not be overcome.

If you look at the polls something like 1.3 less republicans voted and 2.3% or so more dems voted.  So a 3.6% flip.  Kerry lose by what 2.3%.

The real fun should be watching how the GOP regroups and imho it is the Palin/Huckabee wing versus the Rommey wing.  It will be interesting to see who is left standing after all of this.



by giusd 2008-11-08 05:35AM | 0 recs
Re: Should the Republicans have nominated Romney?
Actually, I think the fact that Romney was a former CEO might have worked against him, rather than for him. He might have been viewed as part of the greedy Wall-Street insider crowd that caused the melt-down in the first place. It's hard to say though, your argument for his economic credentials being a strength rather than a liability is certainly a plausible one.
    I don't believe that Romney would have been nearly so gaffe- and mistake- prone as McCain, and this would have made Obama's job tougher. And also remember, the pick of Palin was viewed as brilliant at first. It wasn't until those "moose in the headlights" looks in her interviews that her weakness as a VP candidate was ultimately revealed. But, as a base pick, she was very successful. I guess what I'm trying to say here is, with a different candidate choosing a different running mate, it could be that other states may have been in play, which would have possibly changed some of the dynamics of the race. With Romney, for example, Michigan and Florida may have been much tougher for Obama; on the other hand, a state like Georgia might have been somewhat easier for Obama to win with Romney at the top of the ticket. One other point: I do believe Romney would have made a more thoughtful choice for VP than McCain did.
    In the end, they would both be losers. Fortunately for Obama, the economic crisis and Palin turned what could have been a fairly close election into a landslide.
by Poll Addict 2008-11-08 05:35AM | 0 recs
for the record

I thought Palin was a disastrous pick for McCain from the first day. He undercut his best argument against Obama: 59/694

by desmoinesdem 2008-11-08 06:05AM | 0 recs
Romney's reversals

On equality and the right to choose would have endeared him to moderate Republicans; they would tell themselves that he really didn't agree with the conservatives, even as the conservatives would tell themselves that he really didn't agree with the moderates.

by Drew 2008-11-08 05:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Should the Republicans have nominated Romney?

Romney/Huckabee would have been tough, if Huck delivered the fundies.

by Bush Bites 2008-11-08 05:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Should the Republicans have nominated Romney?

Yep - and it would have been very interesting to see how the Mormon Church's blitz on Prop 8 played out...

would having the Romney / Mormon angle scaled that back - or ramped it up / nationalized it (and thus helped bring fundies in)

I frankly think Romney / Huck could have won this thing as it would have galvanized various bigotries while smoothing the corp / fundie split yet one more time.

by its simple IF you ignore the complexity 2008-11-08 06:29AM | 0 recs
Re: Should the Republicans

The real question is could they have.  It's possible that Mitt would have run a more competent campaign and managed to get the fiscal pugs to vote for him.

But the pugs are in a deep hole.  Mitt is a Mormon and lots of the Christian right don't just mistrust Mormon's, they think they're a cult, or a satanic sect, depending on who you ask.  Were he a Protestant, even not evangelical he would have been their nom.

John had initially planned on putting Mitt on the ticket, so far that Mitt thought he was the choice and began looking for a home in the area (real estate broker sources), but then John put it out that they didn't click and he picked Sarah.

Sarah turned into his nightmare, how could he run on competence and against hacks who can get votes with such a choice. And Sarah is Bush, no one reminded the voters of Bush more than Sarah, twins separated at birth, incurious, pig-headed, proud to be ignorant, thinking they're personal emissaries of the baby jesus.   He may as well have campaigned with the male version since he picked the female one.

So, the point is the pugs don't know how to put forth a decent candidate who might win without alienating their base and driving their voters to sit the election out.  John  did better than he should have, under the circumstances.

now the pugs are trashing Sarah, they so fear she'll end up the face of the new party, which she is foolishly claiming she plans to be.  They're being cruel to her, that 7th grade fake phone call is one of those tricks that makes girls remember the fear of the 7th grade bullies.  

They aren't just in disarray, they have no central message. And the country is poised to go 'minority' over the next few years, which makes their come-back a long shot even if they do get some kind of governing policy together.

There was no way they could have picked Mitt, and yes, had they picked him he might have done better than John, if the prejudiced part of their base had decided a Mormon wasn't cultish satanic scary person after all.  (which is really funny when you think that Mormon's vote pug).    

by anna shane 2008-11-08 05:50AM | 0 recs
Gov. Huckabee

He's the one I think would have been the GOP's best shot. He seemed to inspire the most passionate supporters during the primaries (on the GOP side, aside from Ron Paul's fans.)

His base support came very naturally and easily from the very people who McCain had to make an effort to hold on to (given his dissing them in 2000), yet Huckabee could also present himself in a smooth as silk way to moderates. My wife  liked him, found his weight-loss story very inspiring. Not that she would have voted for him, but I believe many folks would have been very charmed by him.  I kept warning her: "Don't look in his eyes. Don't look in his eyes!"


by Rob in Vermont 2008-11-08 05:54AM | 0 recs
he was a great communicator

and would have excited the GOP base.

However, the Republican punditocracy loathes him, as does the business community. That would have been a problem for Huck.

by desmoinesdem 2008-11-08 06:10AM | 0 recs
Re: Should the Republicans have nominated Romney?

That lying flipflopping ^%$#$##$#$@%$# ?

NO. I think he would have made things worse. Might have kept Michigan closer, but that's it. He is not well regarded or liked in the Northeast. He would not have won Massachusetts, not after lying about us and laughing at us with his Rethuglican buddies.

The religious zealots of the non-Mormon type did not like him and would not have supported him

As another rich white CEO who fired far more people than he ever hired I doubt he would have resonated very well with Joe, or any other, Plumber.

by meddembob 2008-11-08 05:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Should the Republicans have nominated Romney?

MI and MA are out of reach for Republicans, but I think Romney could have won IN, OH and maybe FL.

by desmoinesdem 2008-11-08 06:12AM | 0 recs
Re: Sh

I disagree.  I don't see the rationale for why Romney would have won OH and FL.  

I agree with the poster who said that the financial crisis would have hurt, not helped Romney, because he would have been easily labeled as part of the problem, being a candidate of Wall Street.  

He would have tanked in states hit hard by the bad economy - Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia.  

Romney would have done worse than McCain, imo, ironically, in part because he wouldn't have run as dirty a campaign as McCain did.  

by ProfessorReo 2008-11-08 06:39AM | 0 recs

or Yes. It didn't really matter. The Republicans were going to lose this cycle. McCain did about as well as he was going to do and Obama ran a pretty much flawless campaign.

Palin, for them, was actually a good choice. They were still going to lose, but she turned out their base, thus limiting losses downticket. Without Palin, the religious right would have sat on their hands and the Republicans would have gotten utterly crushed. And in 2012, with Palin, they'll still lose, badly.

by CSears 2008-11-08 06:02AM | 0 recs
Huckabee could have excited their base

and he was more competent and knowledgeable, so wouldn't have dragged down the ticket in other ways.

by desmoinesdem 2008-11-08 06:08AM | 0 recs
Romney looks better now because McCain was

a horrible candidate.  Yet, I'm not sure Romney would have done any better, because McCain, as bad as he was, did effectively rally the base with his pick of Sarah Palin and by running dirty, vicious, red meat tossing campaign.  

The problem with Romney - no charisma, no "brand," just bland.  

Also, Romney would've helped neutralize the national security issue for Obama.  Romney would have been pressured to put someone on the ticket with foreign policy creds, so he wouldn't have been able to pick Huckabee to pander to the base.  

by ProfessorReo 2008-11-08 06:34AM | 0 recs
Re: Should the Republicans have nominated Romney?


Mitt would have exposed the Mormon Church's...irregularities to the public and I know that would not have gone over well at all with moderates  (I have been to the Temple in Salt Lake City.  It is nice, but creepy as all hell, and I am no Christian Conservative by far.)  Plus, he had baggage AND his CEO experience would have been a two edged sword with current economics.  Nope, Mitt would have been no better.  Maybe a Mitt/McCain ticket?  Ha ha.

Huckabee?  HA!  The base would have liked him, but the fiscal conservatives who actually RUN the party could not stomach him.  NO WAY they would allow him to do more than rally the base and get them ready to vote for the candidate THEY want.

All others, not even close.

The problem is that the Republican Party is in a game of chicken with itself right now, being split between the socially self-absorbed but fiscally generous and the fiscally self-absorbed and socially generous.  And Moderates need not apply as both sides see them as traitors.

Nope, the Republican brand is being rebuilt and will be in rebuild mode until one or the other side wins...and the looser starts or fills out a third party.  

I can see it falling out like this:  Evangelicals and Social conservatives win the Republican brand and put forward Pres. teams like Huckabee and Palin.  Fiscal Conservatives get tired of trying to reason with the brick wall that is the Evangelicals and move intothe Independance Party or Libertarian party (or both).  We see nominees like Romney, Pawlenty, or Jindahl (sp?).

Nothing like a little divide and conquer.  And it has only been 3 days since this all started.

by Hammer1001 2008-11-08 06:35AM | 0 recs
Re: Should the Republic

This exercise shows just how fragile the republican coalition has been.  It was an unholy alliance between social conservative-economic populists and social-liberal/economic capitalists.  

A Romney led ticket would have crashed and burned because the base would have been turned off.  That was McCain's problem.  He fixed it by selling his soul to the wingnut Bushie crowd and picking Palin.  There is no way Romney would have picked Palin, and Huckabee would have presented some serious problems.  

Looking back, I think McCain was the only choice for the republicans, mostly by default.  

by ProfessorReo 2008-11-08 06:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Should the Republicans have nominated Romney?

I know this much, Romney would have lost W.Va. Whereas "only" 15% (or was it 25%?) of the state thought Obama was a Muslim, 90% would know that Romney was a Mormon.

I'm guessing we would have had much lower turnout as a bunch of socially conservative voters would voted for McCain would not have been able to pull the lever for a Mormon.

by WVaBlue 2008-11-08 11:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Should the Republicans have nominated Romney?

I think Huck and Palin appealed to essentially the same voters: the hard-core base. Just look where Huck actually won primaries: states of the deep South, Appalachia, and a few scattered pockets of the Plains--precisely the only areas where McCain won. Huck didn't have the "newness" of Palin, and he wouldn't have turned on the old (white) men of the party the way Palin did(does).True, Huck doesn't have some of Palin's liabilities, but to the base she flaunts other assets that more than compensate for this. In the end, I think the results here would have been close to the same, with maybe a few minor differences in demographic composition of the vote.

by Poll Addict 2008-11-08 06:36AM | 0 recs
Re: Should the Republicans have nominated Romney?

Although it's really hard to say whether Romney would have been better, all things considered, I do think the public would have had a lot more confidence in his ability to manage in a time of crisis. He could point to his role in the winter Olympics, of course. But, also, he's got lots of other credentials that inspire confidence. Perfect score on SAT, valedictorian as undergrad (as opposed to McCain's 5th from the bottom claim), cum laude at Harvard Law, Baker Scholar at Harvard Business School, highly successful career in equity management, etc.

Of course, as others have noted, Romney comes with his own unique weaknesses. He's a transparently phony politician. His religion puzzles and/or worries many voters. He brings none of that classic republican toughness to the national security issue. He was arguably part of the problem, given his history as big player in the investment world. Etc., etc.

Also, you have the smaller things. Like traveling hundreds of miles with your dog strapped to the roof of your car. Or, the whole "Who Let the Dogs Out"/"Bling Bling" thing up in Michigan. That's the kind of stuff that can hurt in immeasurable ways. Sort of like Kerry windsurfing or Dukakis in the tank with the helmet.

However, every election is different, and this year, the smaller things didn't seem to penetrate so much. The voters were focused on a specific economic crisis in the lead up to election day, which really did hurt McCain for reasons that may not have applied to Romney. In my view, McCain's biggest problem was his complete failure to convince voters that he had what it takes to manage an economy in crisis. He's was notoriously erratic. His VP pick revealed a lack of seriousness toward very serious decisions. His campaign up to that point was all about the military and foreign affairs, with great emphasis on his bio. But, even his military history is rife with habitual (and very consequential)negligence. Everything he touched seemed to end in disaster. That's really the opposite of Romney and Obama, both of whom have been consistently (almost annoyingly) successful throughout their lives.

So, I guess I'm inclined to believe that Romney probably would have performed worse than McCain before the financial crisis. However, in sharp contrast to McCain, Romney's numbers very likely would have improved during the aftermath following the market collapse. Though, I'm confident that Obama still would have ultimately won.

by DPW 2008-11-08 07:07AM | 0 recs
Re: Should the Republicans have nominated Romney?

Like traveling hundreds of miles with your dog strapped to the roof of your car. Or, the whole "Who Let the Dogs Out"/"Bling Bling" thing up in Michigan

Wha-?  Never heard of those stories.  They are bizarre.  

by ProfessorReo 2008-11-08 07:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Should the Republicans have nominated Romney?

Oh, well then please allow me (the "bling bling" part is at the very end of this first clip, so you'll need to stick around for it):

And, regarding Romney's 12-hour road trip with the dog (in cage) strapped to the car roof throughout, see this:

by DPW 2008-11-08 08:18AM | 0 recs
without a doubt!

I live in Massachusetts and I can tell you that Romney is bright, slick and polished.  He would have been formidable in debates (McCain was frighteningly bad) and would never have done anything as stupid as picking Palin.  I could imagine Jindal or Thune.  

The Mormon thing hurts, for sure, but Romney would have been a formidable candidate.  

by Thaddeus 2008-11-08 07:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Should the Republicans have nominated Romney?

If they had nominated Huckabee we probably would've woken up to a whole different (& much more frightening) situation on Monday.

Keep in mind Bush was a radical & it worked (well he didn't win the votes but he got enough for them to work the rest of the situation)

by jrsygrl 2008-11-08 08:10AM | 0 recs
A whole circus about mormonism would have ensued

It's impossible to say how that would have unfolded.

by Cyt 2008-11-08 11:31AM | 0 recs
Re: Should the Republicans have nominated Romney?

Romney should have been on the ticket, in either slot.

His executive, economic, and managerial accomplishments are solid.

by BigBoyBlue 2008-11-10 05:03AM | 0 recs


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