Jonathan Chait has been on the “Romney Death Watch” beat for ages now, but you know what? The Mittster is not only Not Dead Yet, but he’s actually, I’d say, Feeling a Lot Better. Although I don’t know that he’s going to be breaking out in song any time soon, I have to think Romney’s chances are better now than they were a year ago.
The fundamental strengths and weaknesses of Mitt Romney’s campaign are pretty much the same as they ever were. On the plus side, he ran a respectable race last time around, which means not only that he has a bit of seniority, which Republicans perhaps like, but also that he’s been pretty thoroughly vetted by the system. His basic credentials for the nomination are fine, and he’s been running basically forever, giving him a solid organization and plenty of nomination-relevant resources. On the down side, there’s the fact that Republican voters have never had much enthusiasm for him, and at least three serious vulnerabilities: his record on health care, his religion, and his record on abortion (listed in increasing order of likely trouble for him).
What all that means is that his path to the nomination has always been to be Last Candidate Standing. And you know what? Look around. John Thune is gone. Haley Barbour is gone. Jim DeMint is gone. Tim Pawlenty is gone. Jeb Bush never showed up. Sarah Palin is, at best, severely diminished. Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, Bobby Jindal? Gone, gone, gone. Look at, for example, look at National Journal’s top candidates list from November 2010 (and, sure, look at what I said at the time, if you’re interested): out of the top 20, only Romney, Palin (sort of), Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, and Gary Johnson remain. And no one unexpected has emerged as a plausible candidate. Don’t you think that Romney would have happily accepted that deal ten months ago?
What we’re basically left with, barring something unprecedented (which could happen, but isn’t likely to), is Romney and Perry. And Perry is untested with a national audience – untested with the national press, untested with national Republican party actors, and untested with voters outside of Texas. Which hardly means that he’s destined to flop, but there sure are a lot of hoops he has to jump through.
And if he falters? Then Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee for president in 2012. Death watches notwithstanding.