(First in a series of articles on potential candidates for president in 2012)
Some pundits suggest Governor Mitt Romney’s success as a GOP candidate for president hinges upon how much Obama’s health care plan is in the news, if the Supreme Court rules on parts it, and how it is viewed in comparison with Romney’s plan for Massachusetts. Romneycare will ultimately be judged on its own merits by the Republican Party, rather than on whether it resembles Obamacare. But there are scores of other issues (some now known and others currently unknown) that could become more important than health care in the next 3-6 months when the primary season will be in full swing. The actions of Romney himself and the other candidates will have the biggest effect upon the outcome of the 2012 presidential nomination process, should Romney decide to run again, which is very likely.
Romney and the Other Candidates
In summer 2007, an unlikely contender for president, the former Governor from Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, began a meteoric rise to eventually overtake Mitt Romney in Iowa. Romney had spent at least 50% more time than Huckabee in Iowa and five times as much money. Huckabee had gained momentum and national headlines after placing a surprising second in the all-important Ames, Iowa straw poll in August of 2007. A poor showing in Ames has caused well-known candidates in the past to drop out immediately including Tommy Thompson, Lamar Alexander, and Dan Quayle. Elizabeth Dole dropped out within a month of a third-place showing.
The point is that it is too early to count anyone out. Maybe someone who hasn’t even been considered by pundits yet will emerge as late as summer, 2011, and try to compete; let alone the 6-10 others who have already hinted they are “in”. Had Fred Thompson’s campaign not appeared so lackluster, for example, he may have also overtaken Romney in Iowa or McCain in New Hampshire.
We cannot know for sure whether Huckabee or Sarah Palin will run in 2012. And, of course, we cannot be sure Romney will run. Perhaps, he will take a nosedive in the polls and decide not to spend vast amounts of his own money, again. Like every other candidate, there could be personal issues, a gaffe, or a family scandal or health problems that could cause him to drop out.
On the other hand, if Huckabee and Palin both decide not to run, this will leave Romney the only candidate left over from 2008 and easily the hands-on favorite. If only one drops out, it appears that it could be quite a horse race.
The revelation Massachusetts had to use price controls with insurance premiums shows that it is probably not Obama’s plan that will make the difference, but rather how the voters in early primary and caucus states view what is going on in Massachusetts (and how Romney and the other candidates address the issue). A year is a long time. Perhaps things will go well in Massachusetts and Romney will get some bragging rights. If they go badly, either the voting public will blame Romney or they will blame the Democrat who followed him. It is unclear also whether specific points of MassCare will be play well to Republicans or not: purchase mandates, coverage mandates, etc. Romney stated once in a debate that he likes mandates. There are many variables here and placing all of your eggs in any one basket is risky. I suspect that polling as 2012 grows closer will determine how Romney and his opponents will address (or ignore) this issue.
Romney Strength and Weaknesses on the Other Issues
Romney has many strong resources to draw upon if he decides to run. First, he has the experience and reputation of being knowledgeable on economic issues. He, like Ronald Reagan, frames the issue well in terms of freedom. He must persuade many Republicans that supporting TARP was a good idea. I don’t think the argument Huckabee made that he was a tax-raiser (or fee-raiser) worked well in 2007-2008 and it will probably be a loser in 2012 as well.
Romney is also a good debater and speaker. He is not as stilted as some would claim, and he is likely to get better, not worse. It is doubtful that he will give many stem-winders like Palin does, nor come up with the zingers like Huckabee, but his consistency in this area is a real plus to him over the long haul. His restrained style might also keep him from gaffes. He generally handles interviews well, though like most candidates, he can get a little testy if a reporter knows the right questions to ask.
On foreign policy, it is really a total unknown how the Republicans will gauge he and his opponents in 2012. It wasn’t much of an issue in 2008 and unless we have another terrorist attack, it may not be one in 2012, either. Though he and Mike Huckabee are both strong supporters of Israel and have visited there lately, it is possible that the current flare-ups in that part of the world could highlight differences they have.
It is unlikely the flip-flop charge will be as effective against Romney this time around. After four years, voters are likely to forgive any inconsistencies and consider it unfair to bring up changes he made prior to 2008. Only if he appears to change again on a major issue could the label stick. Guarding against this will be a priority for Romney. Abortion, especially, would appear to be a non-issue for anybody except for those who already have their minds made up, either way. People who care little about this issue will not be bothered by his endorsement of pro-abortion candidates. The same is true for gun control. Unless the issue comes to the forefront, it is unlikely that Romney’s support of certain gun bans will sway many Republicans. His gaffes in this area are old news.
However, the issue of homosexual “marriage” may still show some differences between candidates, and I question whether Romney has been fully vetted by voters on this issue. Unless he passes up the Iowa caucuses, that issue is still big for many voters who supported Bob Vander Plaats’ efforts to remove judges that support “gay rights”.
Finally, there are many issues that we cannot yet know that will definitely come up. What is Romney’s position on those? We don’t know (and maybe he doesn’t know). One of the reasons Republican candidates seem to do well the 2nd or 3rd time around is because, unlike the Democrats, our candidates are well vetted if they become a contender. I doubt if there are any skeletons in Romney’s closet that will hurt him. Discussing a new issue could bring new wrinkles into play. Every candidate can speak a word unwittingly that could bring down his or her campaign almost in an instant. These gaffes or other errors in a campaign are always potential pitfalls. If Romney avoids them he might well end up the 2012 GOP nominee for President (or then again, he might not).
Previously posted on Rightosphere (now Race42012). Updated with new information.
 As a participant in the Straw Poll, I have to admit I enjoyed watching scores of Harley Davidson riders show up in Ames to vote for their hero, Governor Tommy Thompson (I still have a video clip of that from my camera phone).