Cost: Romney’s furiously negative campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire may have already cost Romney the nomination by alienating Gov. Huckabee and Sen. McCain voters
[...] “So, what is Romney’s angle on the nomination?”—asks the estimable Jay Cost in a RealClearPolitics article titled Can Mitt Catch On?
He heads to Nevada and wins that state’s uncontested caucus. This keeps him viable until Florida, regardless of what happens in South Carolina. He then gives Florida everything he’s got.
Will it work? I don’t know. He has another potential problem.
Why is it that most primary candidates refuse to run sustained, intense negative campaigns? The answer is that everybody is basically on the same side. An attacking candidate has to be careful about his opponent’s core supporters. He runs the risk of alienating them – and they might ultimately refuse to support him after their guy drops out of the race. Romney might find himself in that situation. His attacks on McCain and Huckabee have been as sustained and intense as any this cycle. And there is evidence that this has damaged him with the Mac and Huck factions.
The Pew poll found that Romney’s net favorable rating among these voters is not very strong: just +7% among McCain voters, and a whopping -9% among Huckabee voters. Of course, the sample sizes informing these statistics are small – but they are large enough to validate this modest conclusion: Romney is relatively weak among Huckabee and McCain supporters. For comparative purposes: McCain is +30% among Huckabee supporters; Huckabee is +15% among McCain supporters; Giuliani is an eye-popping +69% among McCain supporters, and +33% among Huckabee supporters. [A problem Romney will confront if he wins the GOP nomination: he has a net -12% favorable rating among the general electorate. I'd wager this is also a consequence of the negative tenor of his campaign in recent months.]
This could create problems for Romney in Florida, depending on how things turn out in South Carolina. Following Pew, it does not seem that Romney is the second choice of a plurality of Huckabee voters or McCain voters. The situation in Florida might be different than what Pew finds on the national level, but I doubt it is significantly so. My sense is that if Floridians bolt Huckabee after he loses South Carolina – a plurality will go to McCain, not Romney. Similarly, if they bolt McCain – a plurality will go to Giuliani, not Romney. Generally, Pew and other pollsters have found Romney in third or fourth place when it comes to second choices. Pew also finds that 20% of Republicans will never vote for Romney, making him more “unacceptable” than McCain or Giuliani.
In light of this, I think that what Romney needs is a nominal Huckabee (or Thompson) victory in South Carolina. It would keep the field as open as possible. If the Florida electorate is split four or five ways, Romney might be able to pull out a victory based on his current coalition – thus giving him an opportunity to expand it in advance of Super Tuesday [...]
We have harped on the finely-tuned string of Romney’s negativity and negative attacks for months. We had assumed—incorrectly, if Cost is correct—that the costs for Romney would be disastrous but short term in character.
Cost has persuaded us otherwise.
Cost’s conclusions assume that the GOP remains coherent and effective as an organization. We assume the opposite: the GOP base and institutions will collapse and what remains of the GOP will decide for Romney—this is our prediction. And: evidence suggests that Team Romney assumes the same outcome. Otherwise they would even now be reaching out to Sen. McCain and Gov. Huckabee constituencies—only they aren’t—precisely the opposite is the case—the Romneys and their flaks and flatterers are as hostile and condescending as they ever were toward their rivals and their followers. Instead, as Cost describes, the political primitives of the Romney tribe—still smarting from the beatings they took in Iowa and New Hampshire—now attempt to bypass the detached McCain-Huckabee constituencies altogether wherever they discover them in sufficient concentrations to merit concern, as in South Carolina. The Romney Tribe predict that the detached rebels will be powerless in a dispersed and disorganized GOP, which is probably true. This may also explain Romney’s sudden rhetorical turn toward a naive and intuitive “third way” bipartisanship—he now reaches out to moderates and independents and build his own coalition—see:
That didn’t take long!—Romney drops all pretense of any commitment to conservative values or principles—now argues that “it‘s time for Washington — Republican and Democrat — to have a leader who will fight to make sure we resolve the issues rather than continuously look for partisan opportunity for score-settling” etc.
Here is the problem for Romney: he is not a coalition builder. Coalitions organize themselves around movement politicians. If Iowa, New Hampshire, and even Michigan have taught us anything at all it is that Romney is not a movement politician.