Mitt Romney's problem: The conservative base of the Republican party doesn't want him. He's won the most states, snagged the most delegates and raised the most money, but the enthusiasm gap keeps growing. And with the recent losses in unfriendly Southern territory, the best Romney could do was tout his wins in Hawaii and American Samoa.
Romney aides are putting a positive spin on things by saying that their candidate is so far ahead in delegates, it's just a matter of time. But that's the problem. The more time that goes by, the more chance for Romney to make gaffes that he won't be able to overcome in the general election. Furthermore, a long and drawn-out race is exposing the weaknesses in the Republican party.
Rising gasoline prices may be the biggest threat to Obama's re-election chances, so why are some Republicans arguing that the President wants to see the price of gas go up? Does that make any sense? When Rush Limbaugh called a female law student a "slut" and a "prostitute", the GOP candidates were afraid to alienate his conservative listeners, with Romney merely saying that Limbaugh's colorful display of misogynistic wordplay was “not the kind of language I would have used.” The other candidates also played down the incident. This kind of spinelessness is not helping Romney, and it's not helping the image of the Republican party. After all, half of all voters are women. The Republicans figure they'll worry about that in November. Good luck with that.
Each of Romney's challengers, after surpassing him and getting to the top, has blown it. Rick Santorum, the most recent of the anybody-but-Romney candidates, was gaining momentum when he decided to self-destruct. He called Obama a snob for wanting everyone to have a chance to go to college and said that John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech about his position on the separation between church and state made him want to “throw up”.
I've never heard a candidate say that he wanted to “throw up”. I have to say that it's not very presidential. Of course, he lost me when he started talking about “man on dog” sex. The Republican base, however, seems to be able to live with this kind of nonsensical talk. When Santorum went off about how much he hated college, his audience cheered.
Republicans, however, continue to hammer away at Romney because he's not conservative enough. They point to his term as Massachusetts governor, for example. The fact that he came up with a health care system that seems to be working is a sign that he knows how to run a state. But members of the conservative base believe that it's an example of how Romney caves in to public pressure and does what's popular. They have a point.
Romney won the GOP primary in Massachusetts with 75% of the vote, showing how popular he is there, and also showing how extremely popular his state health care plan is. But the fact that he passed a health care system that Obama later used as a blueprint for the federal law is a major problem for Romney, who now has to distance himself from his biggest achievement as governor. First he's for health care reform, then he's against it, an example of Romney's lack of any semblance of consistency. Romney changes position so much it's hard to tell what his position is, unlike Santorum, who has stuck to his homophobic rants and misinterpretation of JFK's 1960 speech, no matter how idiotic.
Romney's aides have pointed out that when it comes to the general election, Romney can win. They talk about the "reset" that comes when a candidate becomes the presumptive nominee. But the longer the process is drawn out by a delegate-allocation system designed to frustrate and confuse both front-runners and voters, the more likely it will be that Romney will have to defend not only his own gaffes, but the positions his party has forced him to take for the sake of political expediency.
Wouldn't it be great if, instead of saying Rush Limbaugh's use of the word "slut" was “not the kind of language I would have used”, Romney would have said something like “Limbaugh's an idiot and should be fired”? But the Republican party doesn't just listen to Rush Limbaugh. The Republican party is Rush Limbaugh. And that won't play well in November.
Romney will win the GOP nomination, but at what cost? His long list of gaffes will come back to haunt him. Having friends who own NASCAR teams is small consolation. But his $240 million won't hurt. Maybe he can buy his wife a few more Cadillacs.