The latest polls have Romney in first, second, or third place depending on which one you choose. But in survey after survey, GOP primary voters believe that Romney is the inevitable choice, no matter their personal preference. This is a perception carefully fed and nurtured by the Romney campaign and it appears to be working.
Romney has run a frontrunner’s campaign. His debate performances have been gaffe-free while showing off his smooth delivery and command of the facts. His personal appearances have been carefully stage managed and his speeches have been generic enough not to offend anyone. While these tactics may not engender passion in his supporters, they inspire confidence in his abilities. It is this, more than bombast and name calling that Romney is counting on to resonate with voters in a general election campaign.
He has slowly begun to issue policy papers that reflect his common sense approach to the massive problems with our economy and federal spending. His economic plan is prudent but bold: Cut corporate taxes, pass free trade agreements, vastly increase energy production, consolidate worker retraining programs, and act on entitlement reform. He would also issue a series of executive orders that would undo most of the damage done by President Obama to the economy and government by reducing and eliminating unnecessary federal regulation.
His plan to “get America back to work,” is more traditionally conservative. His website explains it as “calling for a fundamental change in Washington’s view of how economic growth and prosperity are achieved, how jobs are created, and how government can support these endeavors.” The plan “seeks to increase trade, energy production, human capital, and labor flexibility. It relinquishes power to the states instead of claiming to have the solution to every problem.”
As far as entitlement reform, Romney has boldly adopted many of Rep. Paul Ryan’s controversial ideas for Medicare vouchers and caps on spending. James Pethokoukis of the Enterprise blog believes that “[b]y embracing a pro-market, patient-centered approach, Romney has invited Team Obama to attack him for trying to “privatize” Medicare as surely as if he advocated phasing out the system entirely.” The difference is that Romney will offer traditional Medicare coverage as an option.
In short, Romney is offering little with which few conservatives could disagree. And he has the track record in government to prove that he can get it done, having had to shave off a $3 billion shortfall in the Massachusetts budget while working with an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. He accomplished this by not raising income taxes (he increased fees on a wide variety of state services) while closing corporate loopholes. As a result, the state was running a $600 million surplus by 2006.
Challenges to Romney’s status as frontrunner have come and gone. The current “anyone but Romney” candidate is Newt Gingrich. The former Speaker of the House matches Romney’s grasp of the issues and ability to articulate policy positions, but his well-known personal and ethical baggage might be too much for voters to overlook — especially in the general election. Besides, Gingrich has his own problems with flip-flopping and the base is hardly more enamored of him than they are of Romney.
It may simply come down to Mitt Romney outlasting his rivals for the nomination. He has the money, the experience, and the organization to compete well into the primary season. And unless a candidate emerges who can unite the party any better than Romney has been doing, it is likely that Republican voters will see him as the best choice to take on President Obama and win the White House back for the GOP.
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