Thank you for joining us. My name is Charles Howard. I’m here with Steve Leser from Democrats for Progress. Steve, you’ve been watching this race for the Republican nomination. You watched the returns from New Hampshire. What are your initial thoughts on the result last night?
A couple of things, first, like everyone else, I knew Mitt Romney was going to win the New Hampshire primary.
That was never the question.
The things I was most interested in were how big would the margin be, and in the crosstabs and exit polls, would Romney poll the most out of any candidate when it came to self-described conservatives, because that is where Romney has had the most trouble. Romney needs those conservative voters to want to work for him if he is going to have a chance at prevailing in the general election against President Obama.
New Hampshire is basically Mitt Romney’s home state and he is the national presumptive frontrunner, has the most money and all of that. You would think in a situation like that, that Romney would not only win but that he would be able to really push up the winning margin and take a huge share of the votes.
I was looking to see if he could exceed 50% of the vote. That to me would have been an impressive margin of victory.
If he didn’t get 50%, the next question I had was would he exceed 40% of the vote. I really think in the position Mitt Romney was in that he should have been able to exceed 40% of the vote. He didn’t do that. The fact that Romney came in under 40% in what amounts to his adopted home state and facing an opposition that is fractured and in disarray to me is a signal of how weak of a candidate he is.
It’s great to be winning and winning definitely beats the alternative, but the object of running for President isn’t to win your party’s nomination, it’s to win the general election. I can talk more about that later, but the margin here tells me that Mitt is a weak candidate polling the best among weak candidates.
As I mentioned, the second thing I was looking for last night was whether Romney could win either an outright majority of or at least get the most of any candidate of the votes of self-described conservatives. This is a group that Romney had trouble with in Iowa and is expected to have trouble with wherever he is challenged for the nomination.
It turns out that Romney polled even with Rick Santorum with self-described conservatives.
In any other state, with the possible exception of Massachusetts, if Romney polls even with the top conservative vote getter out of the Santorum, Gingrich and Perry crowd, it would be a good thing. You would expect, though, that in New Hampshire, he ought to be able to win that demographic and that that result would give him some hope that he could win conservatives over to his side, but even there he just can’t do it.
The verdict is in. Conservatives don’t trust him and they don’t like him.
Many things can change over the course of a campaign, but we are seven or more months in and Romney’s problems with conservatives seem to be something that he will not be able to shake.
I assume, though, that you think he should get credit for being the first Republican in History to win both the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries? Also, does this mean the race for the nomination is effectively over, or can someone stop him?
Hey, like I said, a win is a win and it beats the alternative any day of the week. Winning both Iowa and New Hampshire is impressive from a historical standpoint. There is no question about it.
It’s hard to imagine at this point, when you look at the South Carolina polls and see Mitt leading everyone there by ten points, how he can be stopped if all three of Perry, Gingrich and Santorum are still in the race by the time the South Carolina primary happens on January 21st.
Mitt is going to get a bounce from his New Hampshire win on top of the already commanding lead. Something really profound has to happen to give anyone else a shot. Assuming that Mitt doesn’t do or say something really dumb, the only way that Romney can lose in South Carolina is if there is some sort of backroom deal and, for instance, Gingrich bows out and endorses Santorum and campaigns for him. That is the only chance I see for stopping Romney.
If that doesn’t happen, Romney wins South Carolina, and then with wins in the Midwest, New England and the South, I don’t see an argument for anyone else winning or staying in the race. It’s over at that point. Some other folks might stay in past South Carolina, but if Mitt wins that state it’s over except for the exact delegate count.
Incidentally, by the way, from indications, Ron Paul intends to say in to the bitter end and attempt to accumulate delegates.
If Romney does for all practical intents and purposes win the South Carolina primary and in your view becomes the presumptive nominee, how does the race shape up between him and President Obama?
I have to say as a Democrat that I am looking forward to the campaign against any of these folks running for President. They all seem unelectable to me in most normal circumstances.
I like the idea of facing a candidate like Romney where he does not have the solid backing of the most crucial part of his base. You can claim someone has independent and crossover support, but if they don’t have the enthusiastic support of the traditional worker bee part of their base, they are going to be in trouble. The most generally conservative and also the religious right wings of the Republican party do not like Romney. They didn’t like John McCain much and look what happened to him. They like Romney even less than they liked John McCain, by several orders of magnitude.
Most of the enthusiastic volunteers in the campaigns of Republican presidential candidates in the past have come from the religious right. I’ve seen plenty of discussions on conservative websites where grassroots conservatives are essentially saying that if Romney wins the nomination, they will stay out of this election and wait for 2016 and work to get a real conservative nominated then.
I don’t want to beat this point into the ground, but there is zero enthusiasm for a Romney nomination on the Republican side. That is why you saw all of this chaos over the last seven months with the base trying out different anti-Romney frontrunners. They wanted someone else.
I think a lot of the far right are looking around dazed and confused and are asking themselves: How did we get here with Mitt Romney? How did we let this happen?
Compare this to if a Democrat won the nomination some day who had crossover and independent support but had alienated the unions and the African American community, for instance. I don’t see how such a Democrat would prevail in the general election.
You have to have your base solidly and enthusiastically behind you to win the Presidency, particularly to beat an incumbent. Look at the last two times an incumbent was beaten. Bill Clinton beat George H. W. Bush in 1992 and his base was wildly enthusiastic about him, and Ronald Reagan beat Carter in 1980 and his base was similarly very enthusiastic about him.
Romney doesn’t have that.
To emphasize the point, 55% of New Hampshire Republicans said they would be dissatisfied if Mitt Romney is the nominee. How do you win with that? You can’t.
What are some of the other problems that Romney would have going up against President Obama? What would happen in that race?
Well, the base issue is all he needs to be unelectable, but it does get worse for Romney.
First off, Republicans thought they would be facing a President with an economy that wasn’t showing much movement. That isn’t the case. Unemployment has been trending down for the last year and a half. With the problems he has with his base, the only way Mitt Romney wins the Presidency is if there is a reversal in the unemployment trend and it heads north of 9.5% again. The opposite seems to be happening. There is every indication that the unemployment numbers will be at or below 8 percent when election time comes.
Then you have what I call Mitt Romney’s unique talent. I don’t know what else to call it. He is the all-time, world heavyweight champion of waffling. I’ve never seen anything like it. No other person has been so all over the place on issues as this guy.
Look, every politician has changed their minds on something. I think people will forgive a small amount of that. But people want their President to stand for something.
When the Obama campaign starts making videos of Romney being of two or more minds on every issue, sometimes with radical swings of opinion in a matter of days or weeks, I think people are going to ask themselves what, if anything, this guy stands for.
I criticized Gingrich for some of this a few weeks ago, but Newt isn’t close to as bad Romney is when it comes to flip flops. When you see similar criticisms of a candidate on Democratic Underground and Free Republic, some of the biggest liberal and conservative websites on the internet, you know that candidate has a problem. There is a picture of Mitt Romney seen on both websites where Romney has four mouths, is reading from a list of policy positions, and Romney is saying to the public: Stop me when you hear something you like.
You cannot win the Presidency with that perception.