If I follow the thinking of those who insist that somehow “the Establishment” is making Mitt Romney the Republican nominee this year . . .
The conservative base vastly outnumbers the so-called “Establishment.”
The vision of the conservative base is much more appealing to the country at large than the vision, or lack thereof, of the “Establishment.”
But for some reason, the “Establishment” usually wins.
Some of this could be chalked up to the conservative base splitting its support among several candidates. In comments, the candidates who are most often touted as the “true conservatives” are Rick Perry1, Newt Gingrich2, and Rick Santorum3. For example, in Iowa, Santorum, Gingrich, and Perry amounted to 48.1 percent of the vote.
But in New Hampshire, the trio amounted to a mere 25.8 percent of the vote. Sure, Perry effectively skipped the state, but this was a big state for Gingrich (the Union Leader endorsement) and Santorum spent money on ads there.
Obviously, circumstances can change, but in South Carolina, the trio currently amounts to 34 to 37 percent of the vote in the past three polls. Romney ranges from 27 percent to 37 percent in those polls.
In Florida, the trio amount to
24 percent to 31 percent 42 to 45 percent (Dang it, I used Ron Paul’s numbers instead of Gingrich’s) of the past two polls. Romney is at 36 percent in both polls.
Even if the three men were genetically spliced into “Newtrick Peringrichum,” a candidate who could retain all of their current supporters, they would have a tough road ahead in the upcoming primaries. It would be easier than the one that all of them face separately now, but it still would be a challenging fight against Romney.
(Nationally, Newtrick Peringrichum would lead Romney modestly, but I’m a little wary of using polls of “adults” to assess the views of GOP primary voters.)
From this, something in the convenient narrative must be wrong. Either the conservative base does not hold such a numerical advantage over the “Establishment,” or the base selects messengers for their inherently appealing message that are so flawed that they erode that numerical advantage, or the “Establishment” candidate Romney is somehow appealing to some of those voters in the conservative base.
There’s healthy evidence for that last option. According to the exit polls, if the New Hampshire primary had consisted only of self-described “very conservative” voters, the results would have been . . . Romney 33 percent, Santorum 26 percent, Paul 18 percent, Gingrich 17 percent, Huntsman 4 percent, Perry 1 percent. If it had consisted only of self-described “somewhat conservative” voters, the results would have been . . . Romney 48 percent, Paul 19 percent, Huntsman 13 percent, Gingrich 11 percent, Santorum 7 percent, Perry . . . 0.
I doubt this will persuade many of the “the Establishment controls it all!”crowd; it’s easier to believe in vast conspiracies meeting in dark rooms to pull the strings. But in the end, for all of Romney’s obvious flaws and weaknesses, none of his rivals are doing what they’re supposed to do, and what is allegedly fairly easy: convince Republicans — heck, convince conservatives! — that he’s a better choice for the GOP nominee than Romney.
1. The Gardasil-mandating governor who said critics of in-state tuition rates for illegal immigrants have no heart and who is suddenly denouncing Bain Capital as “vultures that are sitting out there on the tree limb waiting for the company to get sick, and then they swoop in, they eat the carcass, they leave with that, and they leave the skeleton.”
2. The anti-”right-wing social engineering” $30,000-per-month Fannie Mae “historian” who made a commercial with Nancy Pelosi about the menace of global warming.
3. The “big government conservative” who endorsed Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in the 2004 GOP Senate primary and ran ads touting his work with Barbara Boxer on open space and Hillary Clinton on federal efforts to regulate violent content in video games.