I’m frequently asked a variation of this question I saw on Twitter: “If Romneycare makes Mitt such an easy target, why have half-a-dozen candidates failed to land a blow?” To the extent that this is true, it owes partly to the fact there are a half-a-dozen candidates running to Romney’s right and also to the ineptitude of some of those candidates (think ex-candidate Tim Pawlenty). But I don’t think the contention that nobody has landed a blow on Romney is completely true.
When Mitt Romney has been the frontrunner, he has been a weak frontrunner compared to Bob Dole in 1995, George W. Bush in 1999, and even frontrunner-who-went-nowhere Rudy Giuliani in 2007. He has also had difficultly holding on to his frontrunner status, even against candidates who only recently entered the race (Rick Perry) or who were not well known nationally before the start of this year (Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain). Most recently, Cain has taken the lead in at least two national polls.
Romney has survived because of superior fundraising and organization, strong establishment support, divided opposition, and concerns about his opponents’ viability in a general election. And yet he still hasn’t sealed the deal. The moment there emerged a candidate to Romney’s right who was thought to have a solid chance in the general, that candidate took the lead. That candidate was Perry, and the disapperance of his lead had more to do with his own failures than with anything Romney did.
I’ve long maintained there is a good chance Romney will win the nomination. But most conservatives, especially those who identify with the Tea Party, are backing other candidates. Romneycare is the most important reason why. If this ever becomes a two-person race with a conservative insurgent as the other candidate, Romney would be in trouble.