How McCain’s 2008 Political Shadow Is Hurting Romney Now
Did conservatives learn the wrong lesson from losing to Obama the first time?
July 17, 2011 - 12:00 am
Recently Politico ran a piece by Alexander Burns titled “Mitt Romney’s Warning Signs.” Burns outlined three major reasons why Romney is a weak frontrunner and “remains extremely beatable.”
The three reasons are:
- His fundraising quarter wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t a tour de force either. (Romney “only” raised $18.25 million)
- His polling is solid, but stalled. (20% to 30% range)
- His personal shortcomings haven’t disappeared.
Now I agree with all of the above but would like to add one more extremely important reason that explains both the lackluster fundraising and the stalled polling — Romney is being hurt by the political shadow of 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Here’s why:
During the course of writing about national politics, especially the 2012 presidential election, I have noticed a continuous theme in comments from PJ Media readers, comments from other conservative web sites that have picked up my columns, and personal emails from politically active conservative friends and associates commenting on my writings.
All three sources of comments shout loud and clear the reason why many conservatives do not support Mitt Romney for the 2012 GOP nomination.
That argument goes like this: Conservatives like to say that in 2008 they reluctantly supported “RINO” John McCain. They did not consider him to be a “true conservative.” (RINO is shorthand for “Republican in name only.”)
After getting “burned” by McCain’s loss to Obama, they are determined not to repeat the same mistake in 2012 by supporting Romney the “RINO.”
Here are some representative comments from the sources mentioned above:
- “We went there last time with a conservative who was really a RINO. We are not going there this time.”
- “Conservatives do not want another RINO. Romney has to be stopped.”
- “Nominating a true conservative is the highest priority.”
- “Romney is worse than McCain. We are not doing that again.”
- “I will sit it out rather than vote for Romney”
- “Romney’s RINOism will fail to charge up the Republican base.”
- “Rather sit out 2012 and wait for a true conservative to rise in 2016”
- “Last time the party leaders nominated a RINO who was going to attract independents, it was John McCain and we lost.”
This last argument has been voiced again by Republican moderates as a good reason to support Romney in 2012 and of course was used by those same moderates in 2008 to garner support for McCain during the primary process.
The argument worked and McCain was initially popular with independent voters.
However, in the fall of 2008 independents fled from John McCain — some would argue because Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate scared them off, but others would say she attracted conservatives and fired up the base. The truth is both arguments are correct and the voter groups partially canceled each other out, helping to ensure Obama’s victory.
Now looking to the 2012 election, independent voters hold the key to defeating President Obama, and any Republican nominee must be somewhat mainstream to attract them or risk going down to a certain defeat.
But for conservatives to use “RINO” McCain’s inability to attract independents in the 2008 general election against Mitt Romney and thus withhold their support is flawed and dangerous thinking that will assist in President Obama’s re-election.
Independents, according to a Gallup poll, now comprise 38% of the electorate.
Other polling finds they are turning against Obama, and the Republican nominee must be someone to whom they can run.
But if only a “true conservative” is acceptable to the base in 2012, one who can win the GOP nomination and has a reasonable chance of defeating President Obama — that person better rise up fast because time is running out to organize and finance a campaign against an incumbent president who will raise close to $1 billion.
Besides, can anyone even define a “true conservative” these days? For example, could President Ronald Reagan, who granted amnesty to three million illegal aliens in 1986, even win his party’s nomination in 2012?
Romney is being dogged by the shadow of John McCain. This explanation also sheds light on why Romney is not catching on with the base and subsequently why his polling and fundraising are stalled and lackluster.
There is no doubt that Romney is beatable for the GOP nomination, but someone has to step up and actually beat him.
Just the idyllic concept of a “true conservative” candidate does not cut it.
Enter Texas Governor Rick Perry.
An informed source says Perry will make entry into the presidential race “within the month.” Is this three-term governor of Texas the man on the great white horse who can ride in and rescue the base from Romney the “RINO”?
The answer to that question will soon be obvious in polls and fundraising.
However, Governor Perry will have an even more toxic shadow than the one following Mitt Romney. This shadow will follow Perry throughout the primary process, then grow even larger during the general election, if Perry makes it that far. This is the shadow of a former Texas governor, President George W. Bush.
Remember during the 2008 election how Senator Obama waged his campaign more against President Bush than his actual opponent, Senator John McCain?
In 2012, if Governor Perry is the nominee he will be Obama’s George W. Bush version 2.0. Do Republicans really want to make it that easy for Obama’s campaign message machine?
The truth is Rick Perry is not George W. Bush, but a billion dollars of Obama’s campaign money can buy a lot of TV commercials convincing voters or making them at least think how Governor Perry could be George W. Bush the sequel.
But if Perry stalls out and Romney does manage to win the nomination, then the GOP may be in trouble with comments like “Romney is worse than McCain. We are not doing that again.”
The political shadow of John McCain is now hovering over Romney and George W. Bush’s shadow will soon be dogging Perry. Therefore, it is imperative that both men find a way to blot out these shadows before voters are spooked.
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