How damaging will the Republican primary process be to the eventual nominee? Very, somewhat, not very, not at all? Mark my answer as “somewhat,” trending toward “very.” As noted before, the longer primary season has strengthened voters’ dissatisfaction with the Republican field. And the unfavorable ratings of the candidates have risen as well: Mitt Romney’s have jumped 17 points to 51.
The political physics of this are quite obvious when one considers that prolonged exposure to negative information at best enervates supporters, at worst alienates them. Consider the last two Republican nominees. Both George W. Bush and John McCain emerged from their primaries relatively unscathed. Both had one near-death experience — Bush in South Carolina and McCain at the beginning of his 2008 effort when his bloated campaign almost had to abort its take-off. Mitt Romney is on near-death No. 2, expending money and goodwill on surviving tribal rivalry rather than getting on with the hunt. At some point, still distant, but now within sight, the nomination won’t be worth having.