Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mitt Romney's Strategy: Play the Frontrunner

It's time once again for a review of a candidate's strategy. This time, we will consider how Mitt Romney is doing. Each candidate's optimal strategy is outlined on the Profiles page. For an analysis of each candidate's position based on that strategy, check the Rankings page.

We have discussed at length how Romney's Achilles heel is Romneycare, the state health care program he instituted in Massachusetts, and which he has refused to disavow. It might seem odd to focus on one policy--after all, every candidate has supported one policy or another that Republicans don't like. What makes Romneycare particularly damaging is that it is so similar to Obamacare, the very thing that most animated the Tea Party and Republican opposition to President Obama. However, Romney has so far managed to avoid being attacked for it. If Romney isn't careful, he may be lulled into a false sense of security--he's bound to have to face up to Romneycare eventually.

Romney's Profile indicates that his overall weakness is voter skepticism about whether he's really a conservative. By contrast, he has a high "perceived electability" rating. He has only a medium "rhetorical skill" rating, but Republicans generally don't mind a stiff candidate. In fact, every Republican presidential nominee for more than a quarter of a century has lacked rhetorical skill: John McCain, George W. Bush, Bob Dole, and George H.W. Bush all had fair-to-poor speaking ability.

At this point, it's unlikely that there is much Romney can do to enhance his level of perceived conservatism. He'll have to work on his answer for Romneycare, but otherwise, people either see him as a flip-flopping "RINO" or they don't. So what can Romney do? He can redirect the conversation, as much as possible, to his strengths. That's electability: his image as a credible, traditional candidate who knows about the economy.

So far, New Hampshire polls suggest that New Hampshirites are very receptive to Romney. The usual caveats about early polling apply, but his leads in New Hampshire polls have been enormous. They can't be written off as merely the byproduct of name recognition.

Iowa is a different story. We've reviewed the possible winners of Iowa. Some would be easy for Romney to defeat, others would be quite difficult. For now, Romney seems to understand the proper course to take: Assume the winner of the Iowa Caucus will have electability issues, and provide a contrast. Romney doesn't need to attack people like Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain. The media and the Republican establishment will do that for him. Besides, the stronger they are, the more strategic voters will flock to a "safe" candidate like Romney. Romney has instead concentrated on showing that he is presidential.

There's some indication that Romney may begin the primary campaign by essentially pretending he's already in the general election, by attacking Obama on the economy. As long as the chief "Anti-Romney" candidate isn't someone who shares his high perceived electability, he may as well run against Obama. If the Anti-Romney is someone electable, however, intra-Party fighting will commence.