I think Romney’s the strongest Republican candidate remaining, but I can understand the opposition to him, although it seems to perplex Democrats. It reflects a difference in the way some people narrow down their choices of candidates. Usually, I’ll narrow the list down first by resume/ managerial competence, determining who’s acceptable on that level, and then by ideology/ political record. Others will narrow the list down by ideology first, which currently winnows out the guy with the best resume and record of executive success.
As a thought experiment, I tried to ponder what Democratic versions of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich would be like. With the Romney analogue, it would be like if a Jewish Phoenix based John Edwards-like trial lawyer, whose dad was a Governor who lost to Jimmy Carter in the 1976 Presidential primary, had once been the Democratic party’s nominee against Jon “not intended to be a factual statement” Kyl, promising to be more effective as an advocate for traditional marriage, drilling, gun rights and a repeal of Roe V Wade.
After losing, he has success in a philanthropic enterprise in Baltimore, and considers a political future for himself in Maryland. But an unexpected opening in Arizona allows him to be elected Governor there. He campaigns as a centrist, but starts governing as someone who is definitely center-left. He keeps to the letter of the law with most of his campaign promises, but not to the spirit of the law, on issues like public spending. As Governor, he is clearly aiming for a run at the White House. His major accomplishment is successfully initiating a School Vouchers system in the state.
When the tide of public opinion turns against Democrats, he decides not to run for reelection. He has a change of conscience on abortion, saying that he has come to realize the necessity of a woman’s right to choose. It’s not the only issue in which his opinions shift to those of Democratic primary voters. In the presidential primary, he tries to position himself as the most liberal candidate. Using his money and rich friends, he essentially buys himself name-recognition and a ticket to the top tier. He still loses the presidential primary, and the Democratic nominee goes on to lose the General Election. The new Republican President implements a School Vouchers system on a national scale. And now the Democratic version of Mitt Romney is running for President once again.
It’s difficult to put Gingrich’s accomplishment in taking back the House after 40 years in perspective, as it changed the rules about what was though to be politically attainable. There are very few accomplishments possible on that scale for people who aren’t defying expectations while getting elected to the White House. A congressional leader who helps the Democrats take back the House won’t be as extraordinary, as it’s not considered to be as abnormal. Some regional accomplishments might be considered as impressive, but voters elsewhere might not care as much about a Democrat who helped the party win multiple statewide races in Utah or Texas. So, I think the best equivalent to Republicans taking back the House in 1994 would be something that hasn’t happened yet.
The Democratic version of Newt Gingrich would be a congressman who was instrumental in Puerto Rican statehood, a move that could provide the Democratic party with five new Congressmen, two new Senators and seven consistent electoral votes. Let’s assume that this guy was also happy to blast Republicans using apocalyptic terms, and got into many conflicts with his fellow Democratic legislators. And that while he was doing all of this, he was divorcing a sick wife, and involved in some ethics scandals. He resigned, and starting running for President more than a decade later, shortly after the Democratic party suffered a historic defeat.
If the rest of the field is really weak (the likes of Barbara Boxer, Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, Alec Baldwin, Chris Dodd, Barney Frank and Danny K Davis) the primary could easily come down to these two candidates. And Republicans would be trying to figure out why Democrats are considering a guy with all of Newt’s flaws.