Should the Republicans have nominated Romney?

When John McCain won the Florida primary, putting him well on the way to sealing the Republican nomination, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. I had been hoping the GOP would nominate Mitt Romney. Not only did many religious conservatives deeply distrust Romney, I felt he would be easy to expose as a phony say-anything-to-win kind of politician. In contrast, McCain was a media darling with a "maverick" image, even though he also flip-flopped on many issues while seeking the presidency.

Many factors favored the Democrats this year, in particular George W. Bush's rock-bottom approval ratings and the lopsided right direction/wrong track numbers every pollster has found. But it seemed to me in February that the Republicans had nominated their strongest general-election candidate, while our two remaining primary contenders seemed to me to have big hurdles to overcome in the general.

When McCain frittered away the spring and early summer, reshuffling his campaign staff several times, I started to realize he was a weaker candidate than I'd previously believed. Watching McCain's excrutiatingly long non-answer on whether insurance companies that cover Viagra should also cover birth control pills, I remember thinking that Romney would never have fumbled that question so badly. He would have had a slick reply along safe Republican lines, such as, "I don't think the government should be in the business of telling private insurers what to cover."

After Obama picked Joe Biden as a running mate, Republican talking heads were all over the lack of executive experience on the Democratic ticket. Of course McCain doesn't have any either, and his running mate was mayor of a small town (where the city manager did most of the work) and then a governor who abused her power less than halfway through her first term. Romney had a legitimate claim to executive experience, having run a large company and then a state government. Would he have made as dumb a VP pick as McCain did? I doubt it.

Each time McCain loses a debate to Obama, I've thought that Romney would have done better on the stage. Sure, he was a big phony, but he carried himself with more confidence and spoke with more authority in his voice. Perhaps Obama would have won all the post-debate polls anyway, but I think Romney would have made it closer.

I also think Romney would have been a stronger voice for Republicans on economic policy in light of this fall's meltdown in the banking sector and stock market. Here's the Republican National Committee's latest ad, pounding Obama on his inexperience in connection with the current financial crisis:

Obama's relative inexperience is a vulnerability, but he has handled himself well this fall and done a good job answering the economic questions in all three debates. McCain has seemed erratic by comparison. Romney would have been able to play his "I know the business sector" card, and I doubt he would have tried to get the first debate delayed, which looked like an odd stunt from McCain.

Along the same lines, watch this brand-new ad from McCain and try to tell me Romney wouldn't have been more credible delivering this message:

Romney would have looked more confident and sounded more polished. Also, Romney's biography would make it easier to believe he had a plan to restore people's savings, jobs and financial security.

Most important, Romney has not been in Congress for the last eight years, voting with President Bush more than 90 percent of the time. McCain has, which is the focus of this brand-new ad from Obama:

By the way, the Service Employees International Union put together a very clever ad on the theme of McCain being the same as Bush (or worse).

I acknowledge that Romney probably would have lost the general election. The economic indicators and trends in voter registration point to a Democratic wave. Romney's past history of supporting abortion rights and even gay rights would have created major problems with part of the Republican base. Also, perhaps there would have been great resistance to electing a Mormon president. (For what it's worth, I think Romney would be the GOP nominee if not for his religion.)

But McCain is just not running a good campaign, and the economic issues, where McCain is weak, have more salience now than the military and security issues that are allegedly McCain's strengths. It's hard for me to believe that Romney would have done worse against Obama.

What do you think?

UPDATE: The emergence of "Joe the Plumber" strengthens my case. McCain mentioned him about 20 times during last night's debate, apparently without sufficient vetting. It turns out that Joe the Plumber is not a licensed plumber, owes back taxes, and is a registered Republican (not an independent). Oh yeah, and he's also related to Charles Keating's son-in-law (as in "Keating Five" Charles Keating).

Would the Romney campaign have staked so much on "Joe the Plumber" without doing due diligence? I don't think so.

  • Blegh. NO way!

    Course, you've known how I feel about Romney for some time.  But while he would have had the economic thing "in the bag", he'd be up against the "you don't have any more experience than I do" thing with Obama.  Additionally, seeing as how all the Bushes were getting out to try and support and help Romney's campaign, Romney would have had even more of the associated-with-Bush problem to deal with.  

    Let's not kid ourselves.  Both parties chose poorly.  One, because they nominated a guy who has NO record but can talk smooth about change.  And one who nominated a guy who has a record of change but just can't seem to talk about it.

    This election year is for the birds.  And, probably, for the donkeys.  (I'll politely decline to use the synonym, however frustrated I am with this year's race.)  đź™‚

    • Romney has much more executive experience

      than Obama. Americans like governors.

      I know you preferred Huckabee, but I don't think he would have matched up well against Obama. The entire business community and most of suburbia would have been for Obama. Huck would have been a tougher opponent for Hillary, but even then Hillary would probably have won in a year where 80 percent of Americans think we're on the wrong track.

  • While I'm Glad for this at the moment

    I think McCain made a mistake by not picking someone who the more educated part of the base respects and independents may very well have gone for: Newt.    

    I'm glad he didn't, but there will be hell to pay in 2012 if Newt challenges Obama and Obama has rougher seas than he was able to manage.  I think Obama can lead, but he must choose his cabinet wisely, and perhaps with a couple of rivals in hand.  Otherwise, Newt will be watching Obama on his record and can truthfully run against him on it if the situation deteriorates, as it did during Carter's term.  The first step would be find a better Federal Reserve Chairman and a Treasury secretary, and I'm not crazy about DLC'ers being in charge of those.  Obama needs to stay true to his word in taking on the special interests that have the current two in those respective folks have in their pockets.

    Romney was not dynamic enough to help McCain.  Newt would have been.  But Newt very well may have said no when vetted.  

    • Obama runs a real risk

      of ending up like Jimmy Carter. He is inheriting as big a mess as we had in the mid-1970s.

      I was just talking yesterday with a longtime supporter of Obama's about Obama's future cabinet. We agreed that we don't expect Obama to pick any Democrats who supported Hillary in the primaries. He will pick a Republican or two, but no Democrats from a rival camp. At least that's our hunch. Chicago's a tough town.

      • That sure seems pessimistic

        Sure there's a chance Obama could end up like Jimmy Carter. On the other hand, he could be the next FDR. As a Hillary supporter, I was a big critic of his "star power," and I still think she would have been better at handling the economy.

        But we have to use what we have. I'm hoping Obama's persuasiveness and optimism will help restore the world's confidence in America.  

        • he will do fine on the world stage

          but I don't think he has the personality to be the next FDR. I don't see him pushing Congress to enact ambitious policies that will change this country. I see him compromising on lots of domestic issues and trying to declare victory where he can.

          I am sorry to sound pessimistic. Obama will of course make history as the first black president. However, 50 years from now I doubt his name will be attached to any domestic program that made a permanent mark on our country, like Social Security or Medicare. I just don't see him as an FDR or LBJ type politician.

          • The only major piece of legislation he's taken any sort of real position on...

            ... is the "Freedom of Choice Act".  Obama may in fact so liberalize abortion laws that even moderate Democrats will recoil in horror.  That's the only long-term domestic impact one can reasonably expect that he may have, given his non-existent record.

            Oh, and, he may so heavily bend to the UN and their policies and views that our national independence and sovereignty would be seriously damaged.  Perhaps not.  But he does seem to put a lot more stock in what world opinions are than what average middle-American voters think.  

            I'm pessimistic too, Laurie.

  • Interesting alternative history

    I also think Romney would be doing better at this point than McCain, for a few reasons.

    1. Romney's big money connections and massive personal bankroll would have meant he too would have foregone public financing, and thus would have more money to this point.

    2. As a Mormon and the victim of smears himself, Romney would have strongly squashed the "Obama's a Muslim/Arab/terrorist/ect." smears much earlier. This would have scored points with the media and the public.

    3. Better debate performances. Romney would have at least "won" one of three.

    4. Romney only has three houses. (True fact, but just kidding.)

    5. Romney has greater perceived competence on economic/executive issues, and would have been quicker out of the gate on the issue. He wouldn't have continued to say "the fundamentals of our economy are strong" right up until the crash.

    I'm pressed for time at the moment, but I'll add more to this later.

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