Aside from getting votes, he’s a great candidate.
There are three basic theories to explain why Mitt Romney hasn’t been able to build support above the 30 percent level, despite being the heavily favored frontrunner for most of the past six years: (1) Republicans distrust Romney because of his history of flip-flopping. (2) Republicans view Romney as insufficiently conservative. (3) Republicans aren’t comfortable with the idea of a Mormon as president.
If none of the conventional wisdom is fully satisfying as an explanation for why Romney is now stuck in the mid-20s, then, perhaps a more elemental explanation will do: Voters just don’t like him very much. And they never have.
Romney has the least-impressive electoral history of any Republican frontrunner in a very long time. Most of the politicians who chase the White House are proven vote-getters with very few electoral blemishes on their record. John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Bill Clinton, John Kerry, George W. Bush, Bob Dole, Michael Dukakis—what unites all of these men is that before getting to the presidential level, they had demonstrated a talent for getting people to vote for them. (Barack Obama is the exception who proves the rule.)
Over the years, Mitt Romney has faced voters in 22 contests. He won 5 of those races and lost 17 of them. (This total includes a win in the 1994 Massachusetts Republican Senate primary as well as results from the 19 primaries he participated in during 2008. It excludes caucuses because their rules make them complicated enough to be considered distinct from straight-up lever-pulling.)
Romney’s electoral record becomes even more underwhelming when you examine the particulars. He first attracted national notice in 1994 when he mounted what was considered a strong challenge to incumbent senator Ted Kennedy. But when it came time to vote, Romney lost by 17 points in what turned out to be the best year for Republicans in more than half a century. In 2002, Romney won the gubernatorial race in Massachusetts. This victory—the triumph of a Republican in deep-blue Massachusetts—is now the cornerstone of his 2012 “electability” rationale.
It’s easy to forget that four years ago Romney was considered to be the front-runner by many experts. Hew was sold as the inevitable nominee this go-round, especially with Sarah Palin declining to run.
Romney held the lead for most of the year in most polls. But the first straw poll went to Michele Bachmann, with Romney coming in 7th behind Rick Perry’s write-in campaign. Bachmann’s lead lasted about as long as an Obama promise as people flocked to the Perry bandwagon.
Perry rose, then fell. Cain surged into the lead, then tripped. Now Newt Gingrich is in the lead. Meanwhile Romney’s numbers haven’t budged past where they were six months ago. If all the not-Romney voters settle on a single candidate, he’s toast.
It’s the Curse of Seamus.