Writing in TNR, Ed Kilgore describes the roadblocks in Mitt Romney’s path to the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Romney will be going from being the full-spectrum conservative in the top tier to the most moderate top-tier candidate without changing any of his own positions. The ground has just shifted beneath his feet. But I think Kilgore makes too much of the differences between 2008 and now. I think Romney’s biggest problem, aside from Romneycare, is precisely this: “Back then, running against ‘maverick’ John McCain, social-issues heretic Rudy Giuliani, and economic-issues dissenter Mike Huckabee, Romney was essentially the movement conservative candidate in the race.”
And yet Romney wasn’t able to consolidate conservative support even back then. He wasn’t putting up the kind of numbers in the South he would have needed to beat McCain from the right. His support in Iowa proved shallow. Whether it was his pro-choice past or his Mormonism, evangelicals weren’t uniting behind him. Granted, the conservative vote was split and he didn’t emerge as the “anybody but McCain” candidate until very late in the game (almost certainly too late). But it was these underlying problems that created openings for Huckabee and Fred Thompson in the first place.
Certainly, Romney can win. But he has some problems. Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann outraised Romney in the first quarter.