Romney slip-sliding toward nomination

Published 11:00 pm Thursday, March 22, 2012

“Santorum won’t go away, Romney can’t pull away and Gingrich doesn’t appear like he’s going That’s how CBN chief political correspondent David Brody glumly summed up the southern Republican primaries in Alabama and Mississippi.

It’s a fair summation. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has no intention of leaving, and he’s going to the convention even if he’s only got two states (South Carolina and Georgia) and a few delegates in between. Newt’s never been a team player, his ambition is ceaseless and he fantasizes about winning scenarios. He’s going to Tampa with a handful of delegates in his corner but a victory speech in his back pocket … just in case.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, too, is calculating scenarios. The Mississippi and Alabama victories made some of them more feasible. He feels confident that if he could only get Gingrich to pull out, Newt’s votes would go to him, and he’d overwhelm former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who has consistently failed to excite self-described conservative voters.

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With public interest waning, major networks and cable news outlets pushed the southern primaries to the back burner. Yet they illuminated the numbers — and the problem.

Winston Churchill once described a member of Parliament as “the greatest living master of falling without hurting himself.” It’s an apt description of Romney, too. Leaders are supposed to be positive, but they’re not supposed to be delusional about political reality. Far better for him to have admitted, “We took a hit here, but it’s minor. Congratulations to my opponents.” Then switch the subject. Of course, the only topic Romney feels comfortable with is being the inevitable candidate to take on President Barack Obama in November.

The only cheer Romney could find by week’s end was from a Pew Research Center Poll. A month ago, Romney and Santorum were tied nationally. Now, Romney has a 9-point lead. Yet his campaign, along with a well-funded Super PAC, continues to try to make up the difference by outspending Romney’s opponents with a barrage of negative ads.

Even in politics, it’s not the numbers that lie: Romney is struggling in the heartland and Bible Belt. He plays well in states where there are plenty of urban centers and moderates — voters who will also be attracted to President Obama this fall. But for now, he must win the hearts, if not spirits, of tea party Republicans who fueled the party to victory in the last midterm elections.

Romney’s spin doctors hope that political analysts, pundits and the public won’t see his glaring and obvious weakness: He has no compelling message other than electability. Regardless of where you stand on the candidates, primary voters tend to want a candidate who shares their values. In the end, voters will fall in line, but they want someone they can trust to carry their issues in a debate.

Instead of picking off his conservative opponents one by one, slipping and sliding past them to the nomination, Romney needs to come up with a strong message that will rally voters to his side. Until that happens, Romney will have to continue going state to state to pick up more delegates until one or more of his opponents runs out of money.

From the beginning, Romney has tried to divide the conservative vote among his opponents and walk through the splintering to the nomination. While Romney’s divide-and-conquer strategy may have given him the lead, it may not give him a majority before the convention. Even if it does, in Tampa the Republicans could become a house divided against itself.


(Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News, and a contributing columnist to Ms. Magazine and O, the Oprah Magazine.)