Memo to Republicans: If you don’t nominate Mitt Romney, you’re nuts.
I’m serious here. You should quit your futile quest for the elusively perfect candidate and focus on the guy right under your nose. If beating President Barack Obama is indeed your abiding priority, then, love him or not, Mitt’s your man.
Granted, the guy is a tad tough to love. He looks as though he were the kind of kid who showed up for sixth grade with a briefcase. He looks as though he were assembled in a computer lab by Steve Jobs’ minions. He looks like a cross between the Dudley Do-Right cartoon character and Guy Smiley from “Sesame Street. He looks like those chamber of commerce guys who have anchors on their ties.
And yes, I’m aware that even after six years of campaigning, Romney has garnered only 25 percent support within your party. I get it that you don’t want to eat your peas and embrace a serial flip-flopper whose renunciations of past liberal stances may or may not be sincere.
I can’t deny that Romney has the mien and breeding of an old-style Northeastern moderate Republican, a species that has all but vanished from the cosmos. I can’t dispute GOP activist Craig Shirley’s observation that Romney “scares the hell out of conservatives,” although he might’ve gone overboard Tuesday when he compared Romney to the communists in the ‘30s Moscow show trials; as Shirley put it, “No one knows what to believe about those who opposed Stalin or what to believe about Romney.”
Now, now. You might not like Romney, but there’s no need to red-bait the guy just because he supported abortion choice in blue-state Massachusetts 17 years ago and just because he championed statewide health care reform five years ago. All the conservative litmus tests can’t mask one fundamental fact that your party ignores at its peril:
Romney is eminently electable. You want to win, don’t you?
I’ll concede that his electoral track record is less than stellar. Romney boasts that he’s “not a career politician,” but that’s true largely because he has been thwarted in that career. He lost 16 Republican primaries in 2008. He lost a 1994 Senate race. He won the Massachusetts gubernatorial race in 2002 (his only electoral win) but said no to a second race in 2006 when the polls looked bad. It was tough being a Republican in a blue state, but, as a technocrat trained in the financial sector, he wasn’t exactly Bill Clinton on the stump.
Nevertheless, among all the current Republican candidates, Romney matches up best against Obama in the swing states. Ed Rendell reportedly remarked the other day, “If it was Obama-Romney right now, it would be tough for the president to carry Pennsylvania,” and you should heed that remark, because Ed is known for ticking off fellow Democrats with his candor.
But your party brethren are already hip to Romney’s electability. The latest CNN-ORC poll reports that a strong plurality of Republicans — 41 percent — cite Romney as the candidate most likely to beat Obama. Herman Cain is a distant second. Rick Perry is a distant third. Which prompts me to write a few words about Romney’s rivals. Hopefully, while doing so, I can keep a straight face.
Seriously, Republicans, do you really think you have a prayer in 2012 with any non-Romney nominee? Commentator Joe Scarborough, the ex-Florida Republican congressman, probably put it best last week when he said the GOP race is “cluttered with clownish characters.” For instance, Cain’s metier is pepperoni, not policy. Perry scares swing voters and talks as though he were just kicked in the head by a horse. Newt Gingrich’s political power peaked in 1995. Michele Bachmann keeps the fact-checkers busy whenever she opens her mouth. Rick “Hey, When Do I Get My Boomlet?” Santorum has parlayed his 18-point Senate defeat in 2006 into 1 percent support in 2011.
Romney is the only one who doesn’t come off as daft or extreme. Rather, he seems sensible and rational. Back when many conservatives played the birther game, insisting that Obama was born wherever, Romney never joined in. When Perry denounced Social Security as a con job and “monstrous lie,” Romney defended the safety net. When your House Republicans passed a bill (dead on arrival) that aspired to wipe out the popular Medicare guarantee for future seniors, Romney avoided it like the plague. And despite all the antipathy toward the ‘08 Wall Street bailout, Romney says it’s important to recognize reality; as he remarked in a recent debate, “we could have had a complete meltdown of our entire financial system, wiping out all the savings of the American people. So action had to be taken.”
I know that centrism isn’t sexy, but national elections are won in the center. If Obama is really the liberal ideologue you say he is, Republicans, that means the center is vacant and winnable — but only if you learn to love the only candidate who can put you there. I know you’re still hooked on finding a nonexistent miracle candidate, someone who combines electability with purist conservative ideology, but centrist swing voters don’t care about ideology. They want a rational problem-solver. That’s how Romney was trained. The traits that turn you off now would likely serve him well in a general election.
In the end, you’d probably judge him, on the purity scale, to be a less-than-ideal president, but, hey, welcome to the art of compromise. If compromise was good enough for the Founding Fathers, it should be good enough for you. And frankly, if Obama goes down next year, Romney easily trumps his rivals as the best alternative for America.
So there’s your slogan: VOTE MITT. YOU COULD DO WORSE.
It doesn’t quicken the pulse, I admit. But it does have the ring of truth.
• Polman is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.