Mitt Romney’s campaign will have lots of explanations for their man’s poor showing tonight. Yes, Colorado and Minnesota were caucus states — the turnout is skewed in such contests toward a more conservative electorate. Yes, Missouri’s primary was a “beauty contest” and didn’t award any delegates.
But what Romney won’t be able to explain away is just how much more poorly he did tonight in those three states than in his 2008 showing — when he lost the GOP nomination for president.
In 2008, Romney crushed John McCain in the Minnesota caucuses by nearly two to one. Tonight, he was sent into a humiliating third-place finish, trailing both Rick Santroum and Ron Paul. In Missouri, Romney held John McCain and Mike Huckabee to something close to a three-way tie, winning 29 percent of the vote. This year, with fewer opponents, he won only 25 percent. In Colorado, Romney outperformed John McCain by three to one in 2008. This year, albeit with only early returns in, he is trailing Santorum. Results from Denver caucus sites will likely boost Romney’s overall showing, but it’s tough to see him winning the state with Santorum performing as well as he is in Colorado Springs and the rural areas.
Santorum is now well primed to raise more money, recruit more volunteers, and better compete in Arizona’s primary at the end of February.
If Romney indeed loses all three states tonight, it will be in large part because he has failed to close the deal with conservatives, who dominate the Republican party more than they did in 2008. Romney drew the ire of conservative icons Steve Forbes and Dick Armey this week when he endorsed inflation-indexed minimum-wage increases — something every free-market economist worth his chops knows would make it harder for people to get entry-level jobs. Forbes told Yahoo News that “in the name of showing his compassion, he hurts the opportunities for those who need it the most.” Romney has also been quite muted in his opposition this week to President Obama’s proposed rule mandating that religiously affiliated hospitals provide birth control and morning-after-pill coverage.
Mitt Romney doesn’t seem to realize he is campaigning for two jobs, not one. He is doing quite well in the race to become the Republican nominee for president, and must still be considered the strong favorite. But ever since Barry Goldwater captured the GOP nomination in 1964, the Republican nominee has been more or less the titular head of the conservative movement, the most important single component of the Republican party. It is that race that Romney is doing so poorly in, as evidenced by the willingness of many conservatives to vote against him.
Romney would help himself and his party if he realized that he will have a much higher chance of winning the general election if he reaches out to conservatives and convinces them to be enthusiastic. It’s one thing to win the vote of every anti-Obama voter in the country, but on his current trajectory Romney will fail to convince many of them to make that extra effort to get their friends and neighbors to the polls. That could ultimately mean the difference between victory and defeat — and for now Romney seems oblivious to that fact.