By Teresa Welsh |
Compare this Republican primary campaign of 2012 to the Democratic primary campaign of 1972. The similarities and differences are revealing. In 1972, the Democratic base was angry and inflamed, looking for a vessel to capture its anger about the Vietnam War and America's other economic and social ills. Hubert Humphrey was the establishment candidate who had run before. Edmund Muskie was well-liked but shallow. George Wallace, a "third time is a charm" movement candidate, had a fanatical following, not unlike that of Rep. Ron Paul. In the end, however, the winner was the ideological candidate, Sen. George McGovern, who first put together a liberal, anti-war campaign that chewed up his competition on the left. Then, taking advantage of new party rules for the nomination, McGovern turned toward the center and took out the establishment candidate, Hubert Humphrey.
In this campaign, every Republican contender has aspired to be the anti-Romney. Debate after debate after debate, they have chewed each other up. In the process, they have created five conservative bubbles: Donald Trump, Rep, Michele Bachmann, Gov. Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. All rose on unsustainable expectations. They were going to be Moses and lead us out of the desert. Every time, however, Moses brought baggage, which lead to a search for the next Moses.
The opportunity seemed ripe for the last conservative standing to consolidate the right, much like George McGovern coalesced the left in 1972. If a conservative won Iowa, he would be free to turn and and fire on the establishment candidate, Mitt Romney. The "1972" theory seemed to be playing out exactly according to script.
Sure enough, scrappy Sen. Rick Santorum outworked his ideological counterparts in Iowa and came from nowhere to capture a close second to Romney. Finally, after seemingly 40 years of wandering, the right had a candidate that could channel its anger and frustration—and not be Mitt.
In New Hampshire the conditions were perfect for Santorum: a fluid electorate, two debates, a state in which earned media can make or break you. Santorum didn't have to win. McGovern didn't win a lot of early races, either. The Pennsylvania conservative just had to do well and knock another conservative out of the race.
Instead, borrowing from his Olympics experience, Mitt Romney picked up his second gold medal in the Granite State. Santorum faded to fifth place and left the conservative field fragmented, wandering leaderless still.
Credit Romney's win to a steady campaign that focused on timeless fundamentals of message, discipline, money, staff, and focus. Romney won the population centers in Iowa and New Hampshire with a sound ground game and a sustained television presence. Campaigns matter and, simply put, Romney's has been the best. Whether you slice it by ideology, income, or gender, his wins come from every part of the Republican base.
In 2000, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone would often say, "I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party." Similarly, in 2012, South Carolina and Florida represent the last, real opportunity to unite the conservative wing of the conservative movement. It has flirted with six suitors and found each of them unacceptable. My guess: Mitt Romney is headed for a spring wedding.
About Rob Collins Former Chief of Staff for Majority Leader Eric Cantor
Ron Bonjean Former Chief of Staff for the Senate Republican Conference