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Mitt Romney: GOP 2012 Frontrunner ?

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After writing about the results of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference Straw Poll, James Joyner makes the case that Mitt Romney is now the favorite to win the 2012 Republican nomination:

I continue to think Romney has the clearest path to the 2012 nomination, despite Palin’s status as the Republican that draws the biggest crowds and most excites the base.

(…)

Aside from it being Romney’s “turn,” he’s got very strong organization and fundraising capabilities and has demonstrated the ability to get through a campaign without committing major gaffes. Presuming Palin actually runs — which is hardly a given, in that she may well prefer to remain a television celebrity and stay out of the business of having to answer questions from reporters — she and Huckabee cancel each other out in the primaries. Paul is a great organizer and generates powerful enthusiasm but he’s never going to be anything but a niche player. Gingrich is interesting but his personal baggage is so heavy that I just can’t imagine him actually running, much less getting far. And I don’t see anyone else with the ability to jump in, build an organization, and raise enough money to beat the name brands. (No, I don’t think David Petraeus is running.)

Joyner is right on most of his points I think, even more so when you consider the fact that the Republican Party has had a long-standing habit of nominating the person deemed to be the “heir apparent:

Just consider this list of Republican Presidential nominees going back to 1960

1. Richard Nixon, sitting Vice-President

2. Barry Goldwater, insurgent Senator

3. Richard Nixon, former Vice-President.

4. Gerald Ford, sitting President

5. Ronald Reagan, candidate for GOP nomination in 1968 and 1976

6. George H.W. Bush, sitting Vice-President

7. Bob Dole, former candidate for Vice-President (1976) and President (1988), five term Senator, Republican Senate Majority Leader at time of nominatiion

8. George W. Bush, Governor of Texas, son of former President

9. John McCain, former candidate for President (2000), three term Senator

10. ?????

With the exception of Barry Goldwater’s insurgent candidacy in 1964, every Republican Presidential nominee for the past 49 (by 2012, 52) years has been either the candidate most closely identified with the establishment of the party (i.e., George W. Bush) or someone who had run for, and nearly won, the nomination in the past (i.e., Reagan, Bush 41, Dole, McCain).

Given that pattern, Romney is clearly the one best positioned among the Republicans likely to run in 2012. Not only does he have claim to representing the conservative Republican establishment and the business establishment, he’s also a former candidate. Huckabee wouldn’t fall into this category because he clearly only represents one wing

There are caveats, of course.

It was around this same time in the 2008 Presidential cycle that it seemed like Rudy Giuliniani was the Republican frontrunner, and the only thing he ended up with was the most expensive convention delegate in American electoral history.

Also, Romney has flaws that will no doubt be pointed out by his primary opponents two years down the road. Back during the 2008 campaign, Romney was accused of changing his views on social issues to make him more palatable to the National GOP base, and there is plenty out there even now for a similar attack on grounds ranging from the TARP bailout to, of course, health care reform and, specifically, the issue of health insurance mandates.

Nonetheless, it seems clear that Romney is the only person out there right now who can claim the title of frontrunner at this point. Not only does he have the “heir apparent” claim and the organization as James points out, he also has a seemingly endless source of money. In 2008, Romney showed that he was prepared to continue spending his own money even when victory was unlikely. One doubts that he’ll have any hesitation to do the same thing in 2012.

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