The National Review endorsement of Mitt Romney rests on a calculation by elite conservatives that of all of the alternatives, Romney is the best option to preserve the Reagan coalition of economic, social, and national security conservatives. This is something Romney has referred to as the “three-legged stool.” While I can certainly understand the logic behind this, I wonder whether this conclusion will eventually be reached by actual voters, or if it is an inside the Beltway type argument that won’t resonate much when push comes to shove. It is striking to me that for all the money and effort Romney has expended, at different points, Thompson and Huckabee have come out of nowhere to shoot past him in national polls, and now Huckabee leads in Iowa, which Romney seemed to have sewn up. Surely, Romney may end up winning in a field of imperfect candidates, but this tells me that there is still severe resistence to him. For whatever reason, voters aren’t quite ready to buy the product he’s selling. My feeling is that though the NR argument makes some sense on a cerebral level, Romney seems unable to connect with voters on an emotional level. That’s the main reason, I think, why Huckabee–despite his own many imperfections–has soared past Romney in Iowa and nationally. Huckabee is making that emotional connection, and voters seem more willing to forgive his flaws.
In 1980, there could have been another candidate who checked all the boxes to run as an economic, social, and national security conservative, but he would have been unlikely to make history. The Reagan coalition formed not because a politician conducted surveys and plotted the results on some issues matrix, but because of Reagan himself. His arguments didn’t just make intellectual sense, they rang true to people on a deeper, more spiritual, more emotional, level.
My point is that voters don’t typically vote on the basis of filling out a checklist of a candidate’s positions on issues, but Romney has been running as if they do. Perhaps that will be good enough this time around. We shall see.
For another take on how Romney’s data crunching could affect his presidency, check out Jeffrey Lord‘s piece from yesterday.
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