Less than one month until the 2012 Iowa Caucuses, Mitt Romney finds himself again in the uncomfortable position of looking over his shoulder at the candidate with momentum.
In 2008, that candidate was Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.) and now it is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).This time, though, Team Romney should be scared.
Counting on Gingrich to self-destruct, like the other candidates who preceded him, is not a sound campaign strategy if Romney wants to eventually garner the necessary support needed to win the nomination.
Having spent the better part of the last half-decade campaigning for the Oval Office with relentlessness and a single-minded focus, one would think that Mitt Romney would be hitting his stride right about now.
However, although Romney has significant advantages over the rest of the GOP presidential field in terms of fundraising and campaign operations, this is simply just not the case.
Nowhere was this more evident than last week’s interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier. In the exchanges between Romney and Baier, the former Massachusetts governor became angry and increasingly uncomfortable as Baier asked direct, but pertinent questions about his record, particularly RomneyCare.
When Romney quipped, “This is an unusual interview,” and broke out into an awkward laugher, it was quite clear that Romney was failing to hide his contempt for being asked about his own record. At that moment, he was uncomfortable in his own skin and it showed.
If Romney wants to win the nomination, he will need to do more than just continually tout that he is the best-positioned candidate in the GOP field to take on President Obama.
Several candidates have surged in the polls over the last several months precisely because Romney sounds like Jan Brady selfishly complaining about her sister older sister Marcia getting all of the attention when it comes to why Republicans should cast a vote for him in 2012.
For a lot of Republican primary voters, 2008 and the nomination of John McCain is still fresh on their minds. Less than four years ago, establishment Republicans signaled to the GOP base that they had better get in line behind McCain, because he was the candidate most likely to be elected, and begrudgingly the base eventually followed suit.
Even with their disgust for President Obama, the GOP base is not likely to make the same mistake twice, unless Romney demonstrates himself to be worthy of their support. He has to give people a reason to vote FOR him, not just wait until everyone else explodes. Because what happens if one Romney competitor doesn’t self-implode?
For Team Romney to win the nomination, the candidate and his campaign need to quickly improve in two areas. First, Republican primary voters are a lot like most NASCAR fans; they like fireworks and want to see a fighter who instills enthusiasm. Drafting your way to victory lane by just being better than Obama on paper may seem like a smart political strategy given the new primary rules, but it is not enough to satisfy the base. They long for a candidate who will take the fight directly to the president and keep the pressure on him at all times.
Second, GOP voters want to know that they can trust their nominee to do the right thing when the going gets tough. Flip-flopping is only part of the issue for Romney; candidates often change their positions and the base understands this. It’s the rationale behind “why” a candidate changes his or her positions that matters to Republican voters. For America to achieve greatness again, the eventual Republican nominee must prove himself or herself to be someone who will focus on the economy and government reform, no matter what the political costs entail.
Romney must counter the feeling among some that he makes decision based on political opportunity, rather than courageous core beliefs.
Right now, Mitt Romney may be the single candidate with the best odds to win, but if asked, betting on the field would be the wiser bet. If he is unable to overcome these hurdles, Romney could find himself on the losing end of the 2012 Republican presidential nomination — his final chance to win the same office which eluded his father.
Ford O’Connell is a Republican strategist and the chairman of CivicForumPAC. Matt Mackowiak is a Washington and Austin-based Republican consultant and president of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC.