Now that Florida is over, it’s a good time to step back and think about what the Republicans have bought into with their all-but-certain nominee.
Mitt Romney basically serves as a generic Republican candidate for the general election. However, a candidate who overall works out to be a generic representative of his party might have strong strengths and weaknesses within that. Here’s where I see Romney’s particular liabilities — and the strengths that Democrats should worry about.
The biggest problem Romney takes away from the primaries is that he wound up embracing several unpopular conservative issue preferences, and that given his weaknesses within the party among conservatives it’s going to be hard for him to sufficiently de-emphasize those positions. The big one here is the House “Ryan” budget. It’s not just Medicare; it’s also every other program cut that the House embraced. In a world of sophisticated targeting, you can be sure that Obama will find each of the groups who would have been hit by Ryan cuts and point out to them that Romney supports those cuts.
Beyond policy positions, Romney — in an effort to make himself acceptable to the right — has now spent about six years learning to speak the vocabulary of the Rush Limbaugh audience. We will soon see the effects of this rhetoric when he re-enters the real world. You know, the one where swing voters live. The one where Barack Obama’s foreign policy record is about killing bin Laden, not mythical apology tours; the one where people don’t nod along when you talk about Obama playing golf or using a teleprompter. Beyond policy, an enormous percentage of Romney’s rhetoric is pitched to the Fox News crowd, which is necessary if you want the GOP nomination but may sound bizarre to many Americans who are otherwise open to abandoning Obama.
Exacerbating these problems, many Republicans still don’t really trust Romney, because of his reputation for flip-flopping. That will make it harder for him to back off what he’s been doing during the nomination battle.
All that said: Romney also has some real strengths. He’s a far more disciplined candidate than, say, John McCain or Bob Dole. He’s going to do his homework on the issues and should mostly avoid the sort of embarrassing policy gaffes that plagued George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan. And while he’s not most natural candidate ever, he’s certainly not as tongue-tied as Bush.
Romney has run a smooth, efficient, steamroller of a campaign so far, disposing of the serious threats to his candidacy so thoroughly that his defeated opponents all look like they could never have been serious contenders. He’s also demonstrated an Obama-like patience at times, not panicking over the surges of all the joke candidates and keeping his focus where it needed to be. Yesterday’s gaffe notwithstanding, Romney is unlikely to defeat himself this fall. It’s also true that Romney’s wealth and business background will furnish targets for the Obama campaign, although every candidate has vulnerabilities in his or her background, and so far, it’s not clear to me that Romney’s are any greater than average.
Of course, none of this matters if the economy booms or seriously falters, in which case Obama will be easily re-elected or, in the latter case, would probably lose to anyone. But if it’s a close race, all of these factors will be in play.