Don’t Write Off Mitt

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In his latest column, David Corn notes that while the political commentariat tends to dismiss Mitt Romney as a 2012 GOP candidate, it ought not do so—even though Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, backed a health care program in the Bay State similar to President Obama’s and is a flip-flopping Mormon. (Evangelical Christians, who make up a big bloc of Republican voters, often are skeptical of Mormons.) He writes:

What Romney has going for him is this: the economy. There’s no telling what the political weather will be like in 2012. (On January 20, 2009, who foresaw such a dramatic change in the political mood as the one the nation has experienced in the past eighteen months?) But it sure seems that the economy is not improving quickly and that hard times are likely for the next few years. Of the current GOP 2012 wannabes, Romney talks the economy the best. His ideas are not much different from the usual Republican fare—cut taxes (including those on the rich like him), cut regulations, and you know the rest. But as a former CEO (who could play a former CEO on a soap opera), Romney sounds like a guy who understands business. And if voters sour on Obama’s government-can-help approach, they may well turn toward a business-knows-best message (even if the nation is in a slump because of greedy corporatists who rigged the financial system in their favor and screwed the rest of us). Can Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, or Newt Gingrich come across as more knowledgeable on the nitty-gritty of the economy?

Until recently social conservative voters have dominated the GOP primaries. But if these voters are hurting because of the lousy economy, they may be less inclined to base their votes on a candidate’s consistent commitment to their favored social causes. Romney’s flip-flops may be sufficient—if these voters are seeking someone who can lead on economic matters.

He adds:

In 2008, Romney finished third place in the Republican delegate vote count, slightly behind Huckabee. But he was the second biggest vote gatherer in the field, bagging 22.1 percent of the GOP primary and caucus vote, while McCain attracted 46.5 percent. This time around, Romney starts with a bigger bloc than Huckabee, and with the economy in a shambles; his candidacy has more of a rationale than a Huckabee rerun. And then there’s the 800-pound grizzly in the room: Palin. Should she run, she and Huckabee would be in a death-cage fight for the social cons (and any evangelicals who are anti-Mormon). If they split that group, Romney will have an opening.

Romney is no Tea Partier. But he has the chameleonesque talent to figure out how to tailor his sales pitch—downsize government, rev up the free market—to appeal to this libertarian-leaning slice. At the same time, he will be able to go after those non-Tea Party Republicans who yearn for a candidate who’s not so yahoo-ish. (I’m assuming there are still Republicans of that stripe.) And he’ll have enough money to run….

To bag the nomination, Romney will have to walk a fine line—so will any GOP candidate (except maybe Palin, who will rise or fall as a moose in a china shop). Are there too many pitfalls for Romney to straddle? Perhaps, but the same can be said for any in the GOP potential-POTUS pack. One of these very imperfect candidates is going to win—despite his or her much-detailed imperfections.

Corn emphasizes he’s not predicting a Romney triumph. But he notes, “I do believe the punditerati is unwisely shorting Romney at the moment. But, please, don’t invest in him on my advice.”

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