But admittedly, it will take a lot to overturn the psychology of Romney’s momentum. First Trump, then Bachmann, then Perry — all have been ahead in one poll or another at one time or another in the last six months. And Romney plods on, never rising, never falling very far, maintaining an even keel through the roughest of waters. That, too, is a sign that Romney’s “inevitability” may be more mirage than mandate. The candidate has yet to top 30% in any national poll, despite what most political observers believe to be a weak GOP field. He has been criticized by some politicos for running what is essentially a general election campaign for the nomination, leaving his opponents to criticize each other while he stays above the fray.
And part of the “inevitability” tag on Romney has to do with the significant endorsements he’s received lately, most notably from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie, who took himself out of the race many months ago, nevertheless allowed establishment Republicans to get him to rethink his decision during the last fortnight. It is evidence that Romney may be the inevitable candidate, but that doesn’t mean the establishment has to like it. Romney and the blue-bloods may share the same tailor, belong to the same clubs, even get their hair cut by the same barber — but there has always been something distant in Romney’s demeanor that doesn’t sit comfortably with the GOP deciding class.
Matt Bai fingers the wariness with which many of the elites view Romney:
Romney, who’s supposed to be the establishment front-runner, incites no great passion on K Street and Capitol Hill, where he is regarded as a sort of well-designed political android. “Mitt Romney is a really smart, experienced guy, and he may well be exactly what you need as president right now,” Charlie Black told me. “He’s not a gregarious guy who’s easy to get to know.”
NRO’s Rich Lowry writes of Romney similarly:
As a politician, he impresses, but he doesn’t inspire or connect. There’s a human element that was missing in 2008 and still is. Maybe he won’t need it. But it helps account for the tenuous attachment of voters to him that still makes him vulnerable, even as the talk of his inevitability builds.
The establishment has a herd instinct they can fall back on, and the number of powerful money men who have been moving to assist Romney in the last few weeks has grown substantially. Former Republican National Committee chairman Jim Nicholson, hedge fund manager Paul Singer, and Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone are among the major Republican fundraisers who have recently come out in support of Romney, while other GOP whales appear to be rallying around the front-runner.
Romney must be extremely careful not to allow the inevitability tag to negatively affect how voters view his campaign. As Reagan found out in 1980 in Iowa, the electorate does not like coronations; they prefer contests. Reagan’s campaign took Iowa for granted and the candidate was made to pay for it by Iowa Republicans, who believed the Gipper slighted them by not showing up for the prime debate and making few campaign appearances. The payback came in the form of a win by George H.W. Bush, who was then ambushed by Reagan in New Hampshire.
The surest sign of Romney’s perceived inevitability would seem to come from the Obama campaign. The president’s chief political advisor, David Axelrod, voiced the same concerns of conservatives when blasting the candidate for his flip flops:
One of his problems has been that he hasn’t inspired a whole lot of confidence and enthusiasm among Republicans because across the political spectrum people have the same question: if you are willing to change positions on fundamental issues of principle, how can we know what you would do as president?
The Obama campaign has stepped up its attacks on Romney in recent days, pointing to their belief that he will be the GOP nominee. Is it wishful thinking? A Perry or Cain campaign in the fall would energize millions of conservatives, but would have trouble winning over independents — unless the economy was so bad that an “anybody but Obama” feeling would grip the electorate. Most commentators may have let it slip their mind that the Carter-Reagan race was neck and neck until the last few days of the campaign, when it became clear that the Iranian hostages would not be released. At that point, the contest swung on the economy and even independents who had shown little enthusiasm for Reagan broke for the Gipper by a 3-1 margin to seal the electoral landslide.
With Herman Cain more than competitive in the polls and Rick Perry flush with a $17 million haul in the last quarter of fundraising, Romney is no more “inevitable” in the real world than my pet cat Snowball. And I would hope that Snowy would have the good sense to keep the inevitability talk among the elites and the media where it belonged and not let it infect the GOP campaign for the nomination.