So who are the Republicans going to pick as their presidential nominee? If I were a betting man (I’m not) and if I put my money where my mouth is (I don’t), I’d say Mitt Romney. The New York Times just published a survey of likely Republican voters in Iowa, the site of the first real test of R candidates. To tell you the truth, no one likes Mitt Romney all that well.
Here’s the rundown. These questions all had this form: “Regardless of how you intend to vote in 2012, which candidate do you think [the variable being asked about] and then a list of names.
[Who] understands the needs of people like you? Gingrich 24%, Perry 16%, Romney, 13%.
[Who] has the best chance of defeating Barak Obama? Gingrich 31%, Romney 29%.
[Who] is best prepared for the job of president? Newt Gingrich 43%, Mitt Romney 20%, Ron Paul 11%.
[Who] represents the values you try to live by? Michelle Bachman 19%, Ron Paul 18%, Mitt Romney 16%, Newt Gingrich 11%.
[Who] will do the most to preserve conservative principles? Michelle Bachman 21%, Ron Paul 20%, Newt Gingrich 18%, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, 10%.
[Who] can be trusted to handle an international crisis? Newt Gingrich 44%, Mitt Romney 16%, Ron Paul 10%
[Who] is qualified to be Commander-in-Chief? Newt Gingrich 40%, Mitt Romney 19%, Rick Perry 11%.
[Who] will deal with the economy and unemployment? Mitt Romney 22%, Newt Gingrich 21%, Ron Paul 15%
On first glance, that looks really good for Newt Gingrich. He is at or near the top of nearly all the responses. But there are a couple of things you really need to take into account about Newt. One is that he really doesn’t have a campaign organization. The one he had, quit—they left en masse—and he hasn’t entirely replaced them. Another is that he hasn’t raised front-runner money. There is still time to do that, but it needs to get done and he hasn’t shown much appetite for that part of the campaign yet.
A third is that Gingrich is really smart and he knows he is. That means that the discipline candidates have to show to keep “on message” is a good deal more onerous for him than for the others and consequently, he doesn’t do it as well. If he knew for sure that he could be president if he could just control his tongue, I think he still couldn’t do it. He really likes “being Newt” and my guess is that he would rather be Newt than President Gingrich.
That said, it can’t be denied that Gingrich is the flavor of the month. He wins five of those questions outright. Romney wins one—by 1%. On the other hand, look where Romney falls on the questions he doesn’t win. He is second on five of them. He is third on three more.
Perry has a second and two thirds. Ron Paul has two seconds and three thirds. Michelle Bachman wins the values questions, but nothing else. What does that sequence of lower placements mean for Romney?
My guess is that Romney’s position as the default candidate—the candidate who will be chosen at the convention unless someone does something really dramatic to replace him—will hold up. Romney gets bad grades for “saying what he really means” rather than “saying what he thinks voters want to hear.” As a successful governor of a liberal state, he did the things that success required. Now he wants to be nominated by a much more conservative party and he is doing the things that success requires. He can only hope that consistency isn’t one of them.
He’s the kind of team you don’t want hanging around late in the third quarter. He’s not going to make many mistakes. He’s run this race before and he learned a lot from it. He’s going to have to be taken out by someone with a better offense than he has and I don’t see that happening. Gingrich has a high-powered offense, but he turns the ball over a lot. Nobody seems to like Mitt best, but everyone seems to think it would be OK if he won.