The GOP Nomination Race and Romney

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After six months of debating, campaigning and pandering, the official race for the GOP nomination has begun. Over the next five months the frontrunners will continue to claw at each other and wrestle with capricious Tea Partiers and the feisty Republican base until the dust settles in June and Barack Obama’s challenger emerges. The great irony of this circus is that the person whom Republicans have been trying to avoid will end up leading them.  I am talking, of course, about Mitt Romney.

The “anyone-but-Romney” train has been chugging along quite heartily ever since polling began in earnest last summer. It has been great fun for anyone who is so inclined to watch the general buffoonery of Mitt’s competitors as they are hoisted up and then quickly discarded by a GOP base eager to replace him with a more ideologically pure candidate. Let’s stop and take a look at the flavor-of-the-week lineup:

First there was Michele Bachmann, an evangelical who caught the eye of conservatives early in the summer, but was soon discarded due to her apparent inability to separate fact from fiction in public statements. She dropped out of the race shortly after her abysmal showing in the Iowa caucus.

Then came Rick Perry. It seemed that surely this would be the purebred Republican to replace that two-faced RINO, Romney. Unfortunately for Perry, he seemed to have been granted a double portion of the verbal ineptitude that plagued Dubya during his presidency, and it showed — in hilariously embarrassing ways — in the debates and consequently the polls. The dying breath of the Perry campaign was the religious demagoguery of the “Strong” campaign ad that I urge the reader to view on YouTube as an example of how to make an ass out of oneself on the Internet.

“9-9-9!” became the rallying cry for the disaffected Perrians who then formed up behind Herman Cain’s campaign. Apart from his tax plan that would turn the tax system into a regressive nightmare for the poorest among us, Cain displayed an almost gleeful ignorance of foreign policy. Cain — for all his failures in substance — was brought down not by the obvious fact that he is not Presidential material, but because of his infidelity and alleged sexual misconduct. Such is the stuff of American politics.

The latest in the lineup is Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House and architect of the so-called “Contract with America” in the 1990s. Newt differs from the previous candidates in that when his mouth opens he is usually able to refrain from saying completely stupid things. He instead has other problems. From his serial adultery to his 1997 ethics investigation to his loveseat appearance with Nancy Pelosi, the man has serious moral and partisan baggage. He’s also condescending, disliked by many of his party’s insiders, and generally unpleasant: all traits that are rarely associated with electability by any electorate.

These candidates are, with the possible exception of Gingrich, terrible. In addition, lesser candidates such as Rick Santorum or Ron Paul may put on a show in a few small states — as we saw in Iowa last week — but nationwide support and name association (especially Santorum!) are not and simply will not be in their favor.  What all this means is clear: to win the Republican nomination, a candidate need not be great; he need only be acceptable. Mitt Romney is acceptable.

Mitt Romney does not have moral baggage. Mitt Romney does not say stupid things. Mitt Romney has performed well in debates.  Mitt Romney has executive experience as the highly successful CEO of a management consulting firm that he pulled out of the gutter — a very strong playing card in a Republican primary. He has mainstream conservative foreign policy positions. The reader might laugh, but he even looks the part, maintaining those graying sideburns in the classic patrician Republican look.

But Mitt’s most important attribute, particular to this election season, is that he can beat Barack Obama. Of all the candidates, only Mitt Romney has shown an ability to outpoll Obama, and this is crucial because the stated goal of the Tea Party and Republican establishment is to remove our current President from office. The “Massachusetts Moderate” that some conservatives love to hate may be their only chance of getting rid of the Chicago liberal they hate much more.

Republicans are now being faced with a choice. On the one hand, they can choose the candidate (Romney) most likely to beat Barack Obama (per the polling data), or they can stumble through the primaries continuing a fruitless search for an ideological purist who will likely lose come November.  The clock is ticking, and faced with fewer and fewer options the GOP must make the choice that aligns most directly with its stated goal: that Obama must go. Obviously Romney is not the Republican base’s ideal candidate, but given the circumstances they will eventually warm to him even if it is done with some reluctance.

We can already see Romney’s dominance taking hold for good from the results of the Iowa caucus, which was a victory for him but highly disappointing for Gingrich.  New Hampshire doesn’t look like it will be any better for Newt, and he also recently lost his dominance in South Carolina, with Romney once again gaining the upper hand.

Republicans and Tea Partiers have made it clear that their foremost objective is to oust Barack Obama. Given the polling data we have, Romney clearly has the best chance of doing just that.  If irrational demands for absolute ideological purity dominate Republican thinking over the next five months, the future is uncertain, but if regarding Obama the Republicans say what they mean and mean what they say, Romney will be the one on your ballot in November.

Marc Kryger is a third-year chemical engineering major. He can be reached at mkryger@uci.edu.

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