By Teresa Welsh |
Former Gov. Mitt Romney can close the deal with conservatives depending on how you define the parameters. Polls demonstrate that Mitt Romney does reasonably well with "somewhat conservative" primary voters. Where he consistently falls short is "very conservative" voters. Despite the fact that Romney was the conservative alternative to Sen. John McCain four years ago, this round he has been branded the moderate in the race. As long as Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul stick with their campaigns, very conservative voters will have someplace to lodge their preferences. Romney won't close the deal with them until one of two things happen: the other candidates drop out of the race due to Romney's inevitability, or Romney comes to be seen, even by very conservative voters, as best capable of beating President Obama in November.
And that's really the important point. Romney won't close the deal with very conservative voters in the primary process as long as they have an alternative. He will close the deal with them once we enter the general election season, because when all the hoopla and shouting are over, very conservative voters want to beat Obama, and if Romney is their only option, they will close ranks behind him.
It is easy to exaggerate the divisiveness of this nomination process. Evidence suggests, however, that divisive nominations are only really damaging when they involve a weak incumbent president–such as Jimmy Carter in 1980 or the elder George Bush in 1992. But Bill Clinton was not close to locking things up at this point in 1992, and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton took the contest to June four years ago, without damage to Democratic Party fortunes. It is, after all, still only February.
We will know more in a week. If Romney performs reasonably well on Super Tuesday, it's hard to see how the other candidates can catch him in the delegate math. He will continue to experience resistance from very conservative voters, but when this process is over, those same voters will quickly make peace with reality, because they have a bigger battle to fight. It's then that Romney will close the deal with conservatives.
About David Crockett Author of 'Running Against the Grain: How Opposition Candidates Win Presidential Election'
Ford O'Connell Republican Strategist, Conservative Activist, and Political Analyst
Lara Brown Professor at Villanova University