Let me put on my big surprise face: Mitt Romney is running for president.
In a video released yesterday, Romney made the announcement that just barely failed to put me to sleep with its utter lack of surprise in style or content.
To clarify, though my opening comment may have seemed a little snide, Romney is and will be a strong candidate. Yes, he has some serious weakness, particularly RomneyCare. His religion could also be a problem, though I suspect that risk to him is over-rated. More importantly given the nature of Republican primary voters is Romney’s relatively moderate (and changeable) past views on social issues, including abortion. It remains to be seen whether Iowa or New Hampshire GOP primary participants will take him at his word that he’s really pro-life now.
Unfortunately, and it’s a problem for all Republicans, not just Romney, having to play to the right on social issues is a negative when it comes to garnering independent voters in the general election. Romney’s more moderate past, especially if he’s not too fervent during primary season, could thus benefit him in the general election if he were the nominee, if unaffiliated voters believe that if he’s pro-life at least it’s not likely to be front-and-center of his political agenda if elected.
It’s an age-old debate which we won’t solve today, but Romney’s candidacy certainly highlights both the benefits and perils to Republican candidates of being strong social conservatives.
Much has been made in recent days of the result of a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, which had Mitt Romney leading a large GOP pack with 21 percent support. Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump were roughly tied at 17 percent. More from WSJ: “House Speaker Newt Gingrich got 11%, just ahead of former Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s 10%. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, considered a strong contender by political handicappers, remains largely unknown, with just 6% support. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota had 5%, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum 3%, and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour with just 1%.”
My take is quite different. I don’t think Trump is a serious candidate, and I hope he isn’t because he’s not just wrong but dangerously wrong when it comes to foreign trade. I don’t think Huckabee or Palin will run, essentially for the same reason: they have it so good right now with wide media exposure and huge incomes that it would only make sense to run if their egos dominated everything else. While anyone who’s been a governor and who has been a serious primary election candidate for president, much less on the ticket for vice-president, certainly has an ego, I think their egos will be satiated enough by being on TV and making multiples of what they’d make as president and being able to have a life that they won’t jump in.
Betting odds on InTrade.com show people whose money is where their mouths are basically agree with me: Romney is trading aroud 27 percent to be the nominee. Pawlenty is a distant second at 15 percent, and then there’s nobody else in double digits.
Mitch Daniels (probably my favored candidate right now, though Romney’s money-raising ability makes him impossible to dismiss as perhaps whom I should favor) is around 8.5 percent. Michele Bachmann is, somewhat remarkably and probably stupidly in terms of the real odds, trading just over 7 percent. And that’s more than Trump, Huckabee, Palin, Barbour, and Gingrich, who range (in that order) from 5.5 to 3.5 percent.
I think those odds are close enough to right except for Bachmann. To be clear, Bachmann is extremely smart, principled, and good-looking, all things which are very helpful to candidates. She’s Sarah Palin with brains and real-world experience (Bachmann has a law degree and a prestigious LL.M., also known as a Masters of Laws degree in tax law. Her husband, Marcus, whom I’ve also met, has a PhD) But I simply think she’s unelectable at this time as she’s too easy to portray as shrill and extreme. I’d vote for her in a second for senator, but for president I’m just not sure…and I’m fairly sure the country wouldn’t elect her.
While with what we know today, I’d be thinking that Romney and Daniels are the two most serious candidates, neither of them is someone who will really stoke the fire of the GOP base or of independent voters. With that, I hope that someone else rides in, someone with intelligence, experience, and who oozes competence even if not charisma (ala the advice of Charles Krauthammer.) The bad news is that I still can’t imagine who that person is. The good news is that it’s still early.