On Saturday night following the Republican presidential debate on ABC, a panel discussion broadcast on the network included the startling claim by Democratic talking head Donna Brazile that Mitt Romney’s dominance of the GOP field was “good news” for the Democrats because the frontrunner is “the weakest candidate.” Even ABC host and former Clinton administration official George Stephanopolous openly scoffed at her assertion, but some on the right are echoing her taunt.
Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh agreed with Brazile and went so far as to allege, perhaps humorously, that Stephanopolous’s retort was an attempt to get his fellow Democrat to keep quiet about their party’s secret desire for Romney to be the GOP nominee. Limbaugh has, of course, been quite vocal about Romney’s alleged weakness. He believes the GOP’s nomination of a man identified with Wall Street will help fire up the “occupy” base of the Democratic Party while also causing the conservative grass roots to sit out the general election, allowing Obama to cruise to victory. But while Limbaugh’s views are entitled to the respect due to the pre-eminent voice of the conservative insurgency, I very much doubt the president is delighted with the prospect of a big victory for Romney in New Hampshire tonight.
Limbaugh’s thesis that the Democrats “are not hammering Mitt Romney at all” doesn’t hold water. The Democrat strategy has been to do exactly that the entire campaign. Polls have consistently shown that Romney does the best of the entire Republican candidates against Obama–a result confirmed by the latest CBS survey. Only Romney has the ability to gain the votes of independents and wavering centrist Democrats, groups that will never go for Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum.
Moreover, the idea that Romney is weak because he is the embodiment of the Occupy Wall Street worldview makes no sense. The occupiers and the left-wing hatred of the free enterprise system they represent are a snare for the Democrats, not the GOP. If Obama sticks with his decision to run to the left in 2012 that may fire up a portion of his disillusioned base, but it will not play well with mainstream America. That will give Romney, whose business expertise is exactly the right resume line for a candidate in the midst of an economic downturn, an opportunity to occupy the center next fall. That is exactly the opposite of what Obama wants.
The president, who will spend much of the coming year ranting about Congress, desperately needs the Republicans to nominate a candidate closely identified with the hard right, not a moderate conservative like Romney whom most Americans think of as a reasonable and pragmatic leader. That this formulation fails to excite conservative activists is understandable but common sense must tell them the objective is, to use the late William F. Buckley’s formula, to nominate the most conservative candidate who can win, not the most conservative candidate.
That means the president and his staff will be watching the New Hampshire results and those in South Carolina next weekend hoping Romney will stumble. Though the talk of the weak GOP field has bred overconfidence in some Democrats (among whose number Brazile might be counted), the prospect of a well-funded Republican who can appeal to the center is not something they should be happy about. Mitt Romney has his flaws, but neither the president nor his fan base is rooting for him to be the Republican standard-bearer.