Sympathy for the devil

You’ve really got to feel sorry for Mitt Romney right now. This is the guy who is [probably] going to be the Republican nominee and yet he is beset on all sides by indignities within his own party.

Romney’s main pitch is that he’s a good synthesis of the three legs of the Republican stool, as he’d call it – the corporate lobby (that one’s not hard to explain and is perhaps the only thing he’s been consistent on throughout his entire career), the theocons (due to his willingness to ditch his previously moderate positions on social issues and wage an all-out pander assault on Christian fundamentalists), and the foreign policy neocons (due to his constant attempts to out-Giuliani Giuliani with mindless blather about radical Jihadists and doubling the size of Guantanamo).

The latest slew of attack ads from the Romney campaign show how little large voting blocs of the Republican Party are buying this pitch. Why settle for a Mormon faux-fundamentalist who used to actually tolerate gay people when you can have Mike Huckabee? Why have John McCain’s foreign policy-lite when you can have the actual John McCain? Romney may have been able to take out a piece of Giuliani’s advantage by feigning the über-hawk, but McCain’s been pretty consistent about that all along.

So now Romney is in a weird position – beset by Huckabee in Iowa and McCain in New Hampshire. And things are getting even more awkward now that McCain is aggressively campaigning in Iowa this week too. The thing is, even this could be part of the cutting-down-Romney-in-NH strategy; Josh thinks that McCain is hoping a third-place finish in Iowa would give him momentum into the granite state. We’ll see how doable this is – I’m skeptical that either Huckabee or McCain can unseat Romney in the end since they’ve got little appeal outside of their own legs of the stool – but what’s remarkable here is that Romey is being forced to run attack ads in Iowa and New Hampshire.

In particular, I can’t help but feel a little sorry for Romney now that he’s been forced to actually acknowledge McCain in New Hampshire. The schandenfreude kind of overwhelms the sympathy, but it’s still there. Massachusetts governors aren’t supposed to have to fight for New Hampshire and the fact that up until a few weeks ago all McCain was doing at the debates was taking up valuable podium space compounds the embarrassment.

As I’ve said before, I still expect Romney to be the nominee. But what’s happening right now is that two other insurgent candidates are draining all of the GOP enthusiasm out of a Romney candidacy, which is going to make mobilizing the base really hard for him in a general election. And we get to see him sweat a little bit – I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t entertaining.


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