Pretty good turnout for a bad candidate, don't you think?

Photographer: Rick Wilking-Pool/Getty Images

Mitt Romney Isn't a Bad Candidate

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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I don’t think Mitt Romney has much chance of winning the Republican nomination again, but he’s not a particularly bad candidate.

Yes, he seems awkward and prone to gaffes. My View colleague Megan McArdle says, “his fundamental flaw … is that voters just did not connect with him.” Alex Massie at the Spectator put it this way:

Romney’s problem has never been his qualifications for the Presidency. No, his difficulty is the people-stuff. The empathy thing. The emotional intelligence bit of the job. He’s been a candidate who worked better in theory than in practice.

I’m very tempted to agree with these analyses. That’s how he seems to me, too.

But then he runs for office, and I just can’t see it. Show me the election in which Romney did worse than he should have? Not when he lost to Ted Kennedy, or when he won the governor’s seat in Massachusetts (OK, Republicans do surprisingly well in gubernatorial elections in that very Democratic state) Not, I’d argue, when he fell short of the Republican nomination in 2008, even with his baggage from his liberal-state political career. Nor when he won the 2012 nomination. Yes, he fell short in fall 2012. But he ran about where fundamentals-based projection systems  predicted. Those systems knew nothing about 47 percent and the dog on the roof of the car and “a couple of Cadillacs.”

Mitt’s real problem has nothing to do with empathy or “connecting.” It's that he offers almost nothing on his resume for mainstream conservatives to rally around, let alone Tea Partiers or libertarians or any other large Republican group. He’ll do if there’s no one else, and that was how he won in 2012 (and how John McCain won in 2008). Well, that and some solid campaigning. When all the other plausible contenders mysteriously implode, it’s time to consider the possibility the survivor is doing something right.

So Romney’s real problem is that he picked the wrong state for his launching pad to the presidency, and it’s left him a poor fit for the 21st century Republican Party. That he managed to secure a presidential nomination and come close a second time suggests he’s quite good at campaigning. But this time, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Mike Pence, Bobby Jindal,  John Kasich and even Jeb Bush all have stronger conservative credentials, and it just doesn’t seem likely Romney can overcome his basic flaw.

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To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net