The Romney Ceiling Myth

For months now, the political media have advanced the narrative that Mitt Romney is trapped under a ceiling of about 25% of the GOP primary electorate, that he can never win over the conservative wing. Hence the month-by-month hero worship (and inevitable disappointment) of Trump, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and, now, Gingrich (please, please, please!). While it’s plenty fun to watch the GOP flail around, there is little support for the view that Romney “cannot” win the nomination.

The latest expression of glee came from DailyKos’s Jed Lewison, who writes:

“It’s very clear that the GOP field is very far from settled. To see a national poll less than two months from Iowa show the leading candidate with just 18% is remarkable and underscores the extent to which Republican voters are still shopping around for a candidate.” [my emphasis]

“Remarkable?” Hardly.

On this very day, four years ago, future GOP nominee John McCain was “trapped” under a support ceiling, clocking in at 15%.

Poll: Real Clear Politics

Eight years ago, from Nov 9 – 13, 2003, “the leading candidate” was Howard Dean, with just 14% of poll supporters.

CBS News Poll, Nov 9 - 13, 2003

Mr. Lewison could astutely point out that Presidents McCain, Kerry, and Dean all had extremely short terms in office. That is, “unsettled” polls so close to Iowa are correlated to eventual defeat of the nominee. It’s also worth remembering that the GOP has historically “locked in” its nominee much earlier in the process. In that sense, 2012 is unusual.

But there’s little reason to think that Romney cannot be the GOP nominee because of his poll standings today. As I discussed in a recent post, the White House still knows that Romney is the one to beat — though I think they’ll have a lot of trouble doing it.

(For betting folk — not that I am one — I would gladly take Romney as GOP nominee at 70% and would delightedly short Gingrich at Intrade’s current 11% chance of nomination. That Gingrich number is madness. I recommended a short of Mr. Cain at 9% pre-harassment scandal to friends about 3 weeks ago; it’s now at 4.5%. I would also take GOP to win the Presidency at its current 47% odds.)



  1. Bob Lamm says:

    I agree with you, Andrew. Very basic rule of politics: you can’t beat someone with no one. All the GOP flailing around, with a new and horrific conservative favorite every 10 minutes, won’t stop Romney unless someone actually can impress voters enough to beat Mitt in a bunch of key primaries. Romney can win them with 25% if the rest of the vote splits 10 ways. Or if lots of conservative voters who don’t care for Mitt actually don’t turn out because there’s no candidate they really like.

    The most plausible scenario I’ve seen so far for how Mitt could be stopped from winning the GOP nomination is a brokered convention. (I believe I read a piece by Nate Silver raising this possibility.) If Mitt actually entered the convention with, say, only 40 percent of the delegates committed to him–with other delegates committed to various candidates or uncommitted–there’s a chance of a revolt and even the selection of some candidate none of us are even talking about at the moment. But this scenario is a seriously long longshot.

    Barring some unexpected and very damaging revelation about Romney, I don’t see how Mitt can be stopped from winning the nomination. He’s got lots of money, he’s got the best organization by far of the GOP candidates, and he’s got no credible opponent at the moment.

    • Andrew Solomon says:

      I agree. A brokered convention is an extreme longshot, especially because the GOP likes things to be tidy and ordered.

  2. Bob Lamm says:

    Absolutely right about how they like things to be “tidy and ordered.” Part of that–going back as far as the nomination of Richard Nixon in 1968–has been a long GOP history (much more than the Democrats) of nominating the next guy in line. And in many of those cases (like Reagan in 1980, G.H. Bush in 1988, and McCain in 2008) a guy who had previously tried to win the nomination and basically came in second. Many commentators, when first writing about the 2012 GOP race, suggested that Romney fit right into that tradition and would be the eventual GOP nominee. I’ve believed that all along and will until/unless something very surprising happens.

  3. Carolyn says:

    Did you hear David Brooks send up a trial balloon for Jeb Bush last night on the News Hour? Made me wonder if he was losing faith in Romney.

    • Andrew Solomon says:

      It’s a compelling idea. He would lock up Florida. He would get much of the right. And he would instantly have a ton of money. I think he would also undercut Romney’s strength with the “reasonable” Republican set. Finally, he’s campaign-tested and unlikely to have a fatal oops moment. He’s basically a much stronger Perry.

      When I initially read your comment, my thinking was “no way. The country cannot tolerate another Bush.” But I’m starting to be persuaded.

  4. Carolyn says:

    Might solve some problems for Republicans, but as for the nation, no way.

  5. Alan says:

    Seems to me that so much of this “fuss” is media-driven. Much like, and pre-dating, the OJ Simpson media army that has covered every celebrity trial since, we have a whole industry that is devoted to political coverage, chasing down every rumor and story, and generating as much interest in their work as possible. The whole process is hyped and intensified as a result, so that Republicans have a “flavor of the month” favorite candidate. Now, Gingrich?

    Let’s see how the primaries play out, and it is likely that Romney will be the “last man standing”, who has successfully sidestepped scandal, taken only some glancing blows, and leads the anti-Obama charge.

    • Kenan says:

      Agreed. Reporters refuse to accept the principle that you can’t observe something without affecting your subject, stobburnly insisting that they are reporting news when they are in fact creating it. They say, “this latest gaffe is causing a lot of bad press for so-and-so,” like they aren’t making the headline true by the act of speaking it.

      Having an obvious front-runner all along is seriously unprofitable. Who’s going to watch a game if you already know what the final score will be? So they’ve propped up now half a dozen Romney alternatives solely so they can take them down. They’re writing this story.

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