Primary Battles Have Made Mitt Romney Tougher
Romney has become stronger, and the GOP is not as divided as it seems
April 4, 2012
Although this race has taken about one month longer to wrap up than the Democratic nomination contest took in 2004, it hasn't been that much different in its most central aspect. The person considered the most credible candidate at the outset of the invisible primary (John Kerry then, Mitt Romney now) has managed to defeat both some stiff competition (Dick Gephardt and John Edwards then, Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich now) and a surprise "dark horse" (Howard Dean then, Rick Santorum now), and will eventually become his party's nominee.
Still, Romney's ride through the nomination has been rougher and more similar to the one Bill Clinton weathered in 1992. There have been more personal attacks and more intraparty ideological border skirmishes (Jesse Jackson then, Sarah Palin now). Republicans have been acting like a party that has been out of power—and out of the presidency—for much longer than one term.
Taken together, these facts suggest two things that should bolster GOP hopes, even if the current polls suggest the White House may be beyond the Republicans' reach.
First, despite his having been a nominal front-runner for over a year, Romney is now likely a stronger candidate than Kerry ever was because he has had to prove himself more than Kerry ever did. After Kerry won Iowa and New Hampshire back to back, the rest of the contests mostly went his way. Even though Clinton rejects the analogy, Romney is more like him. That's a good thing because Kerry lost; Clinton won. Clinton won because he knew how to do two things that Kerry didn't do: hang in when the going gets tough and fight back when your opponents get tougher. Romney has now acquired these skills and they will likely serve him well in a race that appears headed for more of a photo finish than a landslide.
Second, this relatively tumultuous race has made the GOP appear to be full of factional strife. But these fights are not nearly as intense as they have appeared. Exit polls have consistently shown that the trait Republicans want most in a nominee is someone who can defeat President Obama. In short, the GOP is more unified than it looks, and given how much Republicans seem to want to return their party to the White House, it's highly unlikely that they are going to sit home this November and wait for the ideal nominee to arrive in 2016.
April is not long. Desperation is not divisiveness. Romney is stronger, even if Republicans are less certain of their prospects. Democrats should watch out because what this means is that both Romney and the GOP are hungrier than they were in January.