Since Florida Republicans gave him a massive victory on Tuesday night, Mitt Romney has not had a good few days. His absurd statement about not caring about the very poor, from which, as Seth wrote earlier, he has already backtracked, was a gaffe of the first order. He followed that by showing up at a press conference in Las Vegas to accept Donald Trump’s endorsement, a decision that was generally lambasted and even labeled his worst “biggest blunder” by Phillip Klein in the Washington Examiner.
But while Romney gave his detractors plenty of ammunition, those expecting another swing in momentum as we’ve seen several times during the course of the GOP race, are almost certainly going to be disappointed. For all his bad judgment and proven inability to speak the language of conservatives as Peter Wehner pointed out, I think those burying him are exaggerating his problems. Romney is still about to embark on the first substantial winning streak of the campaign that will secure him the GOP nomination.
Tomorrow, Romney will almost certainly win the Nevada Republican caucus. On Tuesday, he has a good chance of running the table in caucuses in Maine, Colorado and Minnesota as well as the non-binding primary in Missouri. After a three-week lull, Michigan and Arizona will then hold elections on February 28, and he will be favored to win in both states. Though Newt Gingrich is hoping to hang on until Super Tuesday the week after that when he may do better in some of the southern states, at that point the notion of Romney’s inevitability will have already become so strong that the former speaker’s plan to mobilize conservatives against the frontrunner will be severely handicapped. Indeed, Gingrich may be in greater danger of being passed by fellow insurgent Rick Santorum than of catching Romney.
All of which is to say the momentary bumps along the road for Romney such as his remarks about the poor or Trump are not likely to derail his path to the nomination or materially affect his chances of winning in November.
His association with Trump is a blip on the radar screen that won’t change many votes one way or the other, now or in the fall. If anything, those who worry about his playing ball with a blowhard celebrity would do better to focus on the danger to Romney from any compromises with Ron Paul and his crowd at the Republican convention this summer. Trump’s potential to embarrass Romney pales beside that of the libertarian extremist.
More seriously, the flaws in the candidate’s ability to express his thoughts or to connect with ordinary voters — especially conservatives — are a problem that must be addressed by his campaign. But Romney’s weaknesses are by now the givens in this election. If he is to win the presidency it will not be the result of some artificial fix by his handlers but because they will be offset by the public’s good opinion of his strengths–such as his skill in analyzing and solving problems as well as the obvious decency of the man. Democrats will spend the next nine months pounding Romney for his wealth and his supposed lack of care for the poor. But if independents and wavering Democrats are convinced that a smart technocrat who knows how the economy works and whose personal dedication to charity exceeds that of any other major political figure is what the country needs, then the attacks won’t work.
While the Republican nomination is not yet in Romney’s pocket, the February winning streak he is about to embark on is such that it will make it all but certain. That will give his opponents plenty of time to focus on his problems, and we should expect to be hearing about them non-stop until November. But the focus on these stories is merely the background noise of the presidential campaign. The main story remains Romney’s inexorable march to victory in Tampa.