By Teresa Welsh |
There's a concept in sports of playing down to the level of your competition. This occurs when a strong team struggles to beat a weak team because they do not play at their best. Mitt Romney is a vastly superior candidate in terms of organization, skills, and resume than Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich (let alone Herman Cain and Rick Perry). Romney's not as strong as, say, a Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, but he should have had no trouble dispatching a group of competitors who struggle to even qualify for the ballot, fund their travel, and fill out their delegate slates in key states. Romney's been playing down to the field and it's badly damaged his chances for victory in November.
In playing down to a subpar field Romney has taken extreme positions that he won't be able to Etch A Sketch away. In order to box out Rick Perry, he staked out the most extreme position on immigration of anyone in the field and badly damaged his standing with Latino voters. In order to box out Rick Santorum, Romney was forced to support the Blunt amendment which would allow employers to deny women preventative healthcare, to make a lot of noise about eliminating Planned Parenthood, and to support so-called "personhood amendments" like the one that Mississippi voters rejected as being too extreme. The result has been a stunning decline in the governor's support among women, particularly women of child-bearing age. The latest USA Today/Gallup poll shows that Romney's support among women under 50 in 12 key swing states has dropped 14 points in a single month. Over the same period he went from beating President Obama by 2 points in swing states to losing to him by 9. Romney may want to use a Men in Black style mind-eraser trick once he's through the primary but Democrats are unlikely to allow voters to forget where Romney stood in order to box out his far-right competitors.
The drawn out primary has also forced Romney off his game plan. His advisers clearly learned in 2008 that Romney should limit his press exposure to avoid awkward interviews like the infamous one he did with Bret Baier. The long primary has forced him to abandon this strategy. In 2008 we learned that the more people saw of Barack Obama, the more they liked him. Unfortunately the reverse seems to be true for Romney.
About Krystal Ball MSNBC Contributor and former Democratic nominee for Congress
Ford O'Connell Republican Strategist, Conservative Activist, and Political Analyst
Jamie Chandler Political Scientist at Hunter College
Michael Marshall Policy Adviser and Communications Director to former Sen. Bob Dole
Ron Bonjean Former Chief of Staff for the Senate Republican Conference