As the Republicans of South Carolina flock to the polls (kudos to them for being the only state sensible enough to hold their election on a weekend), it looks like Newt Gingrich is positioned to walk away comfortably. A Gingrich win, especially a big one, could swing the momentum in his direction and rewrite the narrative of this race. What looked like a Romney sweep-up only days ago could turn into a protracted, state-by-state battle. A battle which Romney will probably end up winning anyway.
Most Democrats I know are drooling over the idea of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, men almost reptilian in their unpleasantness, spending the rest of the winter and spring travelling across country tearing into each other like speed-crazed weasels. Excuse me, speed-crazed weasels armed with Super PACs which have millions of dollars earmarked *solely* for negative advertising.
However, I think this is wrong. I am hoping that Romney pulls it out. Hell, if I was in Charleston, I would finish my coffee and head out to hold a sign. I think the best thing for President Obama and the Democrats is for someone (Romney, Gingrich, whoever) to win this primary quickly.
Once there is a single opposition candidate, a number of things will snap into place that are vital for the President’s reelection. The Obama campaign can switch from defense to offense, putting all of their formidable resources into play. Democratic activists and donors will quit their whining and get back onto the team. Not to minimize their complaints (the President has done a number of things that I strongly disagree with), but the spectre of a Republican administration underwritten by Bain Capital will remind them that now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party. The media will stop airing non-stop attacks against the President (the primary and its debates) and start giving balanced coverage to both sides.
However, the biggest bonus for Democrats isn’t how a Romney win will affect the media coverage, the base, or any other specific group. It’s how it changes the narrative of this race. A race between President Obama and Governor Romney becomes a clear choice between two people and the policies they represent. This was a core part of our messaging strategy during Governor Patrick’s reelection, and it was critical to his victory. I hope that we will see the same thing from the Obama campaign.
Right now, President Obama isn’t running against Romney, Gingrich, or any of the clowns on the other side, he is running against himself from 2008. That’s a race he can only lose. Every single person in America who supported Obama in 2008 has been disappointed by some policy or decision the President made while in office. That isn’t a critique of the President, it’s an inevitable fact of politics. There’s no way for any candidate to live up to the expectations placed on them by their supporters. As soon as they are sworn in, a candidate ceases being an avatar for our collective hopes and dreams and start having to make actual decisions. Decisions which will inevitably piss of some of their supporters. That’s just part of the gig.
Once it is Romney vs. Obama, voters will stop thinking about their disappointment with the President. They will start comparing the two and thinking about which candidate they would rather see at the helm and which direction they would like to see the country go in. Voters will think to themselves, quite rightly, “Holy shit, I have to actually vote for one of these guys.” That is a powerful change to the narrative of this race and one I think Democrats need to pivot to as soon as possible.
Taken for granted is that I think the President stacks up well in this comparison, but I could be wrong. Our strategy focused on getting the base to come back to the Governor, and Massachusetts has a lot more Democratic base than the country at large. Still, I think the narrative of direct comparison does a lot to affect how regular voters think about the campaign. Don’t forget, you are comparing this guy and this guy.
I can’t pretend I am not excited by the prospect of a fractured Republican party, millions of dollars of negative advertising being directed towards Romney (especially now that the primaries are taking place in states that matter in the general election, like Florida), and Romney having to spend millions just to get the nomination. However, I have seen this movie before. The base gets back into line, the negative attacks will be forgotten in favor of newer and shinier negative attacks, and Romney will have no problem funding the race with the change from his couch cushions.
For the President to be reelected, it’s essential for the Obama campaign pivot out of a race against his own expectations — a futile effort — and make this a clear choice between two actual candidates. The first, and most critical, step in that process is for the Republicans to pick a definitive nominee. If you want the President to be reelected, starting cheering for Mitt to wrap it up.
Also, if you are a South Carolina Republican: Vote Romney.