Most of what the punditocracy has told us about the 2012 presidential race has turned out to be wrong. The bits of “conventional wisdom” that turned out to be spectacularly false include: Mitt Romney had a cap of 25 percent support in the Republican primary; Romney could not win over conservatives; Romney could not compete in the South; Rick Santorum had appeal with Rust Belt and Catholic voters; the strongest Tea Party elements controlled the GOP nominating process; the GOP’s long primary was hurting its eventual nominee’s standing against President Obama; and with the economic recovery Obama had a lock on reelection. Yes, it’s perhaps easier to make a list of things the chattering class got right; it’s shorter, for certain.
In fact, we see that Romney is now at about 35 percent support nationally and does considerably better in more urban and suburban locales. He is winning the “somewhat conservative” vote and getting enough of the “very conservative” vote to put together a winning coalition. He may not win in Alabama or Mississippi, but he is certainly in the thick of those races, despite having spent a minimal amount of time there. Santorum lost in Michigan and Ohio and is consistently losing the Catholic vote. The voters who “very strongly” support the Tea Party have not lifted their favorites (a series of them) to victory. Romney is well within the margin of error in face-to-face match-ups with Obama, and in a number of polls he leads among independent voters. As for Obama, his approval has once again sunk and the vast majority of voters disapprove of his handling of the most important issue, the economy.
This is not to say that the current set of polls will be definitive. But we should be very skeptical of spinners who, based on fleeting polls or a misreading of Republican sentiment born of anti-Romney bias, pronounce with great certainty that Romney is an exceptionally weak nominee and that Obama has this all wrapped up. In short, we simply don’t know how Romney will perform in the general election, nor do we know how both Obama’s policy choices (rejecting the XL Pipeline, refusing to lead on tax and entitlement reform, running up the debt) and current events (the pace of economic recovery, gas prices, conflict with Iran) will play out over the next eight months.
We have had a prolonged Republican primary system both because super PACs have continued to fund losing candidates and because the delegates are backloaded on the calendar and mostly allocated proportionately. That has given plenty of time, too much, it seems, for print, online and cable TV pundits to pontificate. That extended time has given many supposed political gurus excessive time to spin rather silly theories.
In order to keep from repeating the errors of the past year, it would be useful to keep in mind a few basic rules. Put differently, let’s keep the facts in mind.
A win is a win. There are no delegates awarded for spunkiness nor for spending less than the other guys.
The process is about math. Whoever gets to 1,144 wins the nomination. Period.
To date, Romney is the only candidate to win in the Northeast, the West, the mountain states, the Midwest and the South (Florida).
Romney is not running out of money. He raised more than Santorum did in February.
There are more winner-take-all states ahead (New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, California and Utah, and D.C.) than we’ve had so far. Those winner-take-all states are not friendly territory for Romney’s opponents.
In delegate tracking, we know that Santorum needs 928 delegates to win the nomination; Romney needs 715. There are 1,466 more delegates to be awarded. Santorum would have to win over 63 percent to get a majority.
The majority of voters dislike Obamacare and believe the stimulus did not work.
JFK won the 1960 election with 6.1 percent unemployment on Election Day. In his opening statement at the first debate he declared, “I think the question before the American people is: Are we doing as much as we can do? Are we as strong as we should be? Are we as strong as we must be if we’re going to maintain our independence, and if we’re going to maintain and hold out the hand of friendship to those who look to us for assistance, to those who look to us for survival? I should make it very clear that I do not think we’re doing enough, that I am not satisfied as an American with the progress that we’re making. This is a great country, but I think it could be a greater country; and this is a powerful country but I think it could be a more powerful country.”
In 1992, Bill Clinton beat President George H.W. Bush with unemployment at 7.4 percent. As the New York Times reported four years ago, “By the elections in November 1992, the economy had clearly begun to recover from the recession in 1991. But job growth remained so slow that Bill Clinton was able to defeat George H. W. Bush, then the president, by sounding alarms about a ‘jobless recovery.’”
So if a talking head on TV or a blogger tells you Romney lacks support in the GOP (“hasn’t closed the sale”), can “only” win by racking up more delegates or is doomed so long as the economy is moving in the right direction, you can safely disregard those pearls of conventional wisdom. Romney may not win the general election, but as we sit here in mid-March it is entirely possible that he will.