Romney’s Glass: Three-Quarters Empty

Mitt Romney has maintained his one-quarter vote share in the Republican contest against all comers … and against those who stayed home. Whether confronting hypothetical threats from Donald Trump, Mitch Daniels, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin or Chris Christie — or real threats from Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry or Herman Cain — the former Massachusetts Governor has with maddening consistency gotten a quarter of the primary vote.

But the key question for Mitt is whether his glass is one-quarter full or three-quarters empty. No matter what the match-ups, he never drops below one-quarter of the vote or rises above it.

It would seem that 75 percent of Republican primary voters will vote for anybody but Romney, no matter who’s the flavor du jour. And when candidates fade, their vote share is picked up by the next flavor du jour instead of going to Romney.

Right now, Herman Cain, on the strength of his bold and audacious 9-9-9 program, has surged into a tie with Romney. Here’s hoping the baseless charges against Cain will fade away or be discredited. But if they are not, one can already see former House Speaker Newt Gingrich poised to inherit the wind. Anybody but Romney!

As the field narrows down to a few candidates, will the Ron Paul voters — or those now backing other candidates — come to Mitt? Or will they embrace anybody but?

Should Romney win the nomination, this lack of enthusiasm among three-quarters of the GOP vote does not auger well for Romney’s capacity to generate the turnout among his party’s base that he will need to defeat Obama in November.

It’s not that Romney is getting only a quarter of the vote; it’s that three-quarters oppose him no matter who’s his opponent or what’s going on.

Why the aversion to voting for Romney?

Perilously, much of his support comes from the GOP establishment. He’s the favorite of the Fortune 500, the Club for Growth, the Chambers of Commerce, Wall Street and party insiders. But his appeal is much more limited among evangelicals and Tea Partyers.

In a sense, Mitt is a traditional Republican candidate harking back to the days before Ronald Reagan united the economic conservatives, the national security backers and the evangelicals under one tent. Unfortunately for Romney, it was the union with evangelicals — now increasingly recast as Tea Party supporters — that let Reagan create a majority electoral coalition. Romney must follow in those footsteps if he hopes to win.

Mitt’s position supporting Romneycare in Massachusetts and his flip-flop-flip on abortion and gay rights cause understandable concern among conservative voters. Less reasonable is the aversion to a Mormon candidate among evangelical Protestants. But regardless of its cause, Romney’s candidacy is now reaching too limited a base for success in November.

The energy and kinetic enthusiasm that must animate the Republican campaign has to come from precisely the voters who are now lukewarm, at best, to Romney’s candidacy.

Disappointingly, it seems that Romney is not as willing as he should be to reach out to the Tea Party groups. Recently, he rejected an invitation from the Tea Party Patriots — the largest of the Tea Party groups — to a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate on November 28th covered by CSPAN. While Romney can hardly be accused of ducking debates — it seems he’s in one every few weeks — it was a needless affront to a group that embraces more than half of the Tea Party organizations to plead a scheduling conflict for the date. (Even though it’s my birthday!)

Romney must not sit on his lead and calmly watch the other candidates battle it out. He needs to do more to reach out to the GOP base, with which he’s badly out of touch.

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