Why did Mitt Romney lose big in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado. It’s the base, stupid. Can Romney turnaround Romney?

The lesson of last night’s two political caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado, and beauty pageant in Missouri, none of which were binding in terms of delegates, is that although independents are important, they don’t determine outcomes. In reality, it’s the base that does, even  in general elections. The base is why Rick Santorum came away with three first place finishes. He now has won more states, four, than his three competitors.

Bad night for Gingrich; not so good for Cong. Paul, but that doesn’t matter

Gingrich didn’t show up in Missouri, came in fourth out of four in Minnesota and avoided another fourth place finish in Colorado by just 400 votes. Bad night for Newt. Romney? Not much better. Third place in Minnesota, a distant second in Missouri (25% to Santorum’s 55%) and Romney lost 40% to 35% in Colorado, a state where he invested heavily and was expected to do well. Paul did reasonably well in Minnesota, coming in second to Santorum, but did poorly elsewhere. However, Congressman Paul’s performance doesn’t matter. The eventual nominee will acknowledge Ron Paul had some influence, perhaps the Republican Party is a bit less big government than would otherwise be the case, but again, Ron is not a player in this race.

The Party bases focus on issues and style

The base, Republican and Democratic, tends to focus on both issues and style.  The Democrat base went with Obama in 2008 because they respected the fact that he spoke out, clearly and forcefully, against the Iraq War in 2002, at a time when Hillary Clinton and John Edwards were voting for it.  Obama  told me in 2004, when he ran in a tough seven candidate Democratic Primary for his  party’s U. S. Senate nomination, that he differentiated himself from his opponents in that race by three things: he knew the issues, he had  a vision and he spoke out. The Democratic Party base, in 2008, appreciated those traits, appreciated Obama’s consistent, long held position against the Iraq war and appreciated his judgment and style. The man had style, He could give a speech that could knock your socks off and he could charm anyone, friend or foe, right out of his or her  shorts- in a different way, but not completely unlike Bill Clinton.

Why is Romney the favorite to win the Republican Presidential nomination?

Take a good look at Mitt Romney.  Does he sound like he knows the issues?  Does he have a vision? Does he speak out?  Negative on all three. Does he have style?  Not really. So, if Obama is the model of a current day successful pol, why is Romney the favorite?  Because all the really good Republican candidates took themselves out of the Presidential race.

Gov. Chris Christie- a better bet for the Rs?

For starters, Chris Christie is a New Jersey Governor who knows the issues, has a vision and speaks out.  Apparently, he felt he was too inexperienced, had no national network and might not be sufficiently conservative. So, he said no—after a big national, strip tease.

Gov. Mitch Daniels, a better bet for the Rs?  

Mitch Daniels, an Indiana  Governor who knows the issues, has a vision and speaks out, has a wife who went off the deep end twenty years ago—and left her husband and family for another man-- and perhaps did worse. She came back after a few years, settled down and has led an exemplary family values life since. Mitch and his wife weren’t up to dealing with the media and Obama’s opposition research team about the past.

A few others—similar analysis; Candidates who got in and got out:  Rick Perry (insufficient smarts, too Texan, no national appeal);  Michele Bachmann (insufficient stature, a bit wacky, little national appeal), Jon Huntsman (liked to insult the base; had said the Obama stimulus was too small; few real accomplishments, a rich kid) Herman Cain (too many sexual harassment claims to deal with; media do not like black conservatives).  No serious candidate there who was up to taking on Barack Obama.  So, for the Republican Party, it came down to Mitt, Newt, Rick and Ron, all flawed candidates.

Cong.  Paul—not a Republican

We can dismiss Ron out of hand. He is not a Republican; he is a libertarian. The Republican Party is not going to nominate a libertarian, especially one who thinks a nuclear armed Iran is not a problem. That’s not necessarily my preference. It is just a political reality. I don’t make the political rules; I just write about them.

Newt- the one Republican who can out debate Obama

Newt Gingrich has more baggage than a major airline, including a wife who told a national TV audience a few weeks ago that Newt wanted an “open marriage.”. Yet, he is the one candidate who can, on his best days, out debate Barack Obama—not just in the debates, but every day of the campaign. But, as good a debater Newt is, and as facile Newt is in  terms of coming up with good public policy solutions to society’s problems, when Newt is bad, he is very, very bad. And, often he is bad.  Newt has a shot at the Presidency, but the Party establishment does not want to go with him. He has not built a major, national organization and is relying, for funding, on one individual, who has given his Super-PAC ten million dollars. That is not a very diversified, sturdy campaign, from which one can expect to beat Barack Obama.

Santorum, the candidate  who can win Reagan Democrats in purple Pennsylvania ?

Rick Santorum lost big time the last time he was on the track, in 2006... That is, he won a U. S. Senate seat twice in a Reagan Democrat state, Pennsylvania, then lost by 18 points to a Pro-Life Democrat.  He is not somebody that the party establishment would like to put all their chips on.  Yet, he knows the issues, has a vision and speaks out.  If he can cobble together a national organization, he could be the guy. And, the Party Establishment could support him. But, they would rather not.

Romney, the Party’s favorite. Why?

That leaves the Republican Party with Mitt Romney as the clear favorite, going into last night’s contests. Mitt has a solid organization, half a billion dollars in net worth and a reasonable message.   On the image side, Mitt has one wife and five kids. So far, so good. His father was a self made rich guy, who rose to be Governor of Michigan and who might have been President if he hadn’t admitted he was “brainwashed” by the Generals about Vietnam.  The Romneys are Mormons, of whom many are distrustful.  But, all in all, Mitt has a pretty good family story.

Mitt is not completely self made—he was born on second base, but he did make a lot of money, legit, on his own, by investing with others, in companies that were either good ideas that needed seed money or companies that had gone off the tracks and needed someone to turn them around. In short, Mitt made honest money by exercising good judgment, on average, and helping companies get or remain viable. Those companies, by getting or staying healthy, in turn, helped many people by employing them. It is a good story. Too bad Mitt can’t tell it better. Perhaps he can learn.

Once Mitt was lost; now he is saved.

Mitt has done well in business, in politics (becoming Governor of Massachusetts) and running large enterprises (Bain Capital) and the Winter Olympics.  He has changed his positions on a number of social issues: abortion, gun control and gay rights. Some would say those changes reflect the fact that Mitt found his way. Once he was lost, now he is saved. Redemption. Others say Romney will say anything to win your vote.  What the real answer is almost doesn’t matter.

The Romney challenge from the base

What matters is that Mitt Romney must persuade the Republican Party’s base that he has real, core convictions. Core convictions that are consistent with the Republican base and attractive to independents. If the base doesn’t love Romney, they will not turn out in large numbers and vote for him and get others, including independents, to vote for him. If the base doesn’t do those things, there won’t be enough independents in the Country to elect Romney over Obama.

Can Romney win the Presidency by targeting Santorum?

It is said that Romney will now target Rick Santorum. He will paint Santorum as Mr... Earmark, as Santorum has voted for and defended many, many earmarks.  Team Romney will castigate Santorum as anti-libertarian and anti-Tea party (which is partly true), hoping to win over the libertarian and tea party segments of the base to Romney. That strategy will not succeed. It may drive up the negatives of Santorum but the negatives of Romney will be driven up, as well. Yes, team Romney hurt Gingrich by employing millions of dollars of negative ads. But, the same strategy, employed over and over, is not necessarily a winning strategic approach to wooing the Republican Party base.  If Romney does nothing but go negative, he may get the nomination but he will ultimately lose to Obama. He needs the base to love him, respect him and have faith in his presidency. You can’t do that by concentrating on negative campaigning. Romney must win the hearts and minds of the base and independents.

Wooing the Republican Party base

Romney needs to establish his core convictions and persuade the base that his convictions track those of the base. He has to persuade the base that he understands how and why conservatives care about poor people. He has to remind everyone that as conservatives see it, America is great because it allows poor people to become rich people and in fact, America is a mobile society, not a class driven society. Romney has to understand that America should lower capital gains taxes and marginal rates of taxation for all income groups, not just middle income groups. Romney has to learn and believe that America wants all people to be given strong incentives to work, save and invest and government should then get out of the way and let them do it. This is what it means to be a conservative, as opposed leading groups in singing America the Beautiful-- a Romney favorite activity, of late.

Romney has to learn that minimum wages create unemployment, especially for low-skilled, young job seekers, many of whom are minorities.  So Romney should know that his proposal to index minimum wages would increase unemployment and poverty, hardly a way to help low income people and convince the Republican base that he has core convictions that are consistent with those of the base.

Can turnaround specialist Mitt Romney turnaround Mitt Romney?

Romney has to learn a lot in a short amount of time. Or else, Mitt Romney may win the nomination and lose the general election. That is the lesson of last night.  Or, maybe the lesson is that Rick Santorum has more core convictions that are in sync with the base than does Romney.   The Republican base voters of Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado sent Romney a clear message. The most important question this morning is—Was Romney listening? And, does he understand. Well, do you, Mitt?



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