About Mitt

By Ian Bremmer
January 11, 2012

The media can’t help themselves when it comes to presidential politics, and that’s never been more in evidence than in the current Republican nomination battle. For the press, campaign season is its Olympics, the time when reporters’ bosses open their wallets to send them to far off places like Dixville Notch, New Hampshire and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and correspondents can make a career on how well they report on the race. Except this year, there is no race. Mitt Romney will be the nominee, and that’s been clear for months.

Yet here’s the lead from today’s Wall Street Journal recap of yesterdays New Hampshire primary: “Mitt Romney is a long way from claiming the Republican nomination, but he leaves New Hampshire with significant advantages in a field where no single opponent seems well-positioned to stop him or become the obvious alternative to him.” While the reporter may merely be acknowledging the mathematics of the delegates Romney still has to win in primaries across the country, the hedging on Romney’s inevitable victory, to anyone who follows the day-to-day stories in the campaign, rings hollow at best.

With Gingrich, then Santorum, and Bachmann and Cain before them, news stories always turned to polls to explain the latest in the “anyone but Romney” vote. But the story the media should be telling is that polls during campaign seasons historically change the most and matter the least. Flawed methodology and small sample sizes make even the most rigorous polling little more than a one-day snapshot of popular sentiment, yet poll results are often reported as if they were all but recorded in the county clerk’s election rolls.

What we should be reading about when it comes to the nomination are things like the size of each candidate’s ground force, the number of committed staff, an ongoing endorsement tally–in other words, the true measures of a candidate’s strength. By these measures, Romney has an overwhelming advantage and has for months. But for some reason such metrics are mentioned only in passing, if at all, or are left to weekend feature stories, as if the day-to-day news about Romney walking down a street in Manchester to knock on doors had anything to do with his viability as a national candidate.

Part of the problem, albeit unspoken, may be that the media haven’t really warmed to the often robotic and sometimes aloof Romney, and because of that, they are holding back on anointing him as the nominee. They therefore highlight those qualities in him and cite the failure of the Tea Party and evangelicals to coalesce around him, even though Romney has been carrying a majority of the overall support of the party, again, for many months now.

The other problem Romney is facing is that candidates with no chance of winning the nomination are refusing to get out of the race. While some may blame the influence of soft money and Super PACs in putting these campaigns on artificial life support, there are simpler explanations for why Gingrich, Cain, Perry, Santorum, Huntsman and Bachmann all stayed in so long: There’s nothing but upside for them, personally, in doing so. The longer candidates can claim a sliver of the national stage, the better off they are in the long run. For Gingrich and Cain, it helps them sell books and raise their personal profiles. For Santorum and many of the rest, they can position themselves to be important parts of Team Romney in the general election and in a Romney administration. Those who aren’t looking for a spot on Romney’s roster are especially willing to trade the enmity of the future GOP nominee for the media attention that bashing him brings. It’s all about job security. And after all, any publicity is good publicity–fueled by an ever-rotating media spotlight that really shouldn’t be shining on these also-rans in the first place. If Ron Paul, who consistently garners high percentages in polls and now in the New Hampshire primary, is widely acknowledged as being too far outside the Republican mainstream to win the nomination, there’s no way Huntsman, who could do no better than third in New Hampshire, can surge past both to win the nod.

Having been vetted during the GOP primaries in the 2008 cycle, what few skeletons there are in Romney’s closet have likely been thoroughly exhumed and inspected. There’s always the chance of a scandalous surprise to knock him from his perch, but it seems unlikely that the no-swearing, no-drinking, family man Mormon has any such bombshells to worry about. So what’s the net result of the media’s refusal to call this race all but over?

Probably a stronger and stronger platform for Barack Obama in the general election. The longer Romney has to beat back the fringe candidates in the primaries, the less work Obama has to do in the general election. But even that is not Romney’s biggest concern–rather, it’s the improving economy and the continual upward creep of economic and employment numbers–indications the country is getting back on the right track, upsetting his core argument against the incumbent.

Rick Perry has promised to make his last stand in South Carolina, and Jon Huntsman has said that the Florida primary on Jan. 31 will decide who the GOP nominee will be. While it may be fun for both men to dream, they know the race is long over, and the identity of the nominee will be Willard M. Romney. It may be fun for reporters to cover the remaining candidates as the political human-interest equivalent of the Jamaican bobsled team, but this isn’t the Olympics–it’s a national presidential election. It’s time to focus on who Romney is and what his policies as president would be, and how they stack up against Obama’s. With so much at stake for the future direction of the U.S. and its place in the world, anything else is, at best, a disservice to readers.

This essay is based on a transcribed interview with Bremmer.

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney points to supporters as he stands on stage with his relatives while speaking at his New Hampshire primary night rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, January 10, 2012. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

11 comments

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My non-American opinion: America’s problems will not be solved by any given president. They need to be solved by Americans en masse starting to care about things that affect them. What the government is really doing. What the banks are doing with their money. Where their pension money is being invested. Most Americans seem content to leave real issues to ‘other people’ and just enjoy life. Mitt, Barrack or anyone else is not so important. It does make for a good circus act though…

Posted by BidnisMan | Report as abusive

Oh, blardey blar. The differences between Mitts and Obama are so slight that stating “so much at stake” is balloon juice of the highest proof. These apocalyptic assertions are a disservice to anyone with an intellect above that of a cabbage.

Posted by Quatermass | Report as abusive

Well there is one very large difference between Obama and every Republican running with the exception of Ron Paul. Obama is unlikely to invade anyone. That cannot be said about the Republicans. Their major differences seem to be whether to invade Iran or Pakistan or North Korea first, or alternatively reoccupy Iraq. They are a uniquely bellicose party that is uniformly ready to invade using money otherwise intended for the poor, for the disabled and for the elderly.

Republicans can afford new wars but cannot afford to keep their promises to ordinary Americans.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive

I was a member of our state delegation to the Republican national convention in 2008. When Gov. Romney came to the podium to address the convention then, the whole place was absolutely quiet. The entire mob of people was mesmerized by him. I was amazed. I told people around me then that Gov. Romney was going to be our next Republican nominee for President. You could feel it in the air …. It was in the cards for Mitt. We have been given some great Republican candidates. All of them are great men and I could vote for any one of them and feel good about it. But I do think that Gov. Romney has separated himself a bit from the others. He just acts like a President and handles situations in a presidential manner. I think he will win the Republican nomination and I also believe he will be our next president.

Posted by kodiak92 | Report as abusive

Obama pulling us out of Afghanistan and the job market improving should take care of the Republicans.

Posted by Daviel | Report as abusive

“Obama is unlikely to invade anyone.” — I am not really sure that claim holds much water. Despite the gradual withdraw of troops from the middle east, he certainly hasn’t done anything drastic to change the Bush agenda, in my opinion.

Do I think Romney is above controversial military action, no. But I think he will at least analyze foreign policy from an ROI perspective.

Posted by Snake.Plissken | Report as abusive

It’s a process, let it run through to its conclusion – the longer it takes the better it is for the incumbent. It’s a bit hard to warm to any of the lot anyway. Except maybe Ron Paul. At least he’s different. More of the same is too ridiculous to imagine.

Posted by vh070 | Report as abusive

Mostly, I would agree that there is not much at stake, and that both Romney and Obama are far more similar than the partisans would have us believe. However the glaring exception – to me – is that Romney sounds ominously neo-con regarding foreign policy. That would be a disaster. I’m watching and waiting.

Bizarrely, Obama’s approach is more Reaganesque than everyone else’s except for Ron Paul. How the GOP has forgotten their disgraceful performance, resulting in the losses of 2006 and 2008, is beyond me.

Posted by RynoM | Report as abusive

> “Mitt Romney will be the nominee, and that’s been clear for months.”
It’s a little unfair to the other GOP candidates to suggest that it was clear Romney would win even before all the others had had a chance to make themselves heard.

But let’s say you’re right, in that it’s now obvious that Romney is going to win… Why would the GOP continue this theatrical spectacle, besides wanting to be seen as giving everyone a fair and democratic chance to be chosen by the voters and not the pundits or the “establishment”?

The GOP is getting free advertising for their candidate(s), from media coverage of their nomination contest. What’s not to like about that? It’s almost like those choreographed WWF fights… It’s just a slightly more intellectualised version of the same thing!

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive

[For those who didn't guess, I'm partly joking about the WWF comparison...]

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive

I thought I was joking when I compared GOP nomination “debates” to choreographed show fights… But it seems they were determined to out-do me with reality. Just watching a few minutes of their latest “debate” was too much. I don’t think I can stand any more of it…

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive