Most GOP Voters Saying "Anybody But Romney"

Most GOP Voters Saying "Anybody But Romney"

By Robert Tracinski - September 30, 2011

The Republican primaries have been taking a weird, wrenching turn. The pattern could be described as chaotic, except that it has one consistent theme.

That theme is that Republican voters are searching for someone, anyone, other than Mitt Romney.
Mitt Romney ran a large national campaign for the nomination four years ago, so he is well-known to Republican primary voters. Too well known. They know all about his infamous flip-flops on abortion. They know all about RomneyCare, the government-directed health care plan he created as governor of Massachusetts, which he touted as a model for the rest of the nation to follow, and which Barack Obama and congressional Democrats actually did use for their model.

Hence the fact that Romney has never drawn the support of more than 25% of Republicans in the polls, and not the strong support of that group, either. The Rick Perry boom, for example, took away about a third of Romney's supporters.

Now Perry is in trouble, partly because of his stumbling performance in the most recent debate, and partly because of the substance of something he said in that debate. Perry was attacked because of a plan that gives in-state tuition rates at Texas state universities to children of illegal immigrants. I think this plan is eminently defensible: ambitious young people who want to improve themselves and become successful are precisely the sort of people we want to have as citizens, no matter where they came from, and we should encourage their ambitions. The problem is Perry's defense, in which he told his rivals that if you don't support these programs, you "don't have a heart."

The whole appeal of Perry is that he is supposed to be the un-compassionate conservative, the man who scolded George W. Bush for making precisely this kind of argument about not "having a heart." It is an obvious form of me-too-ism. The Democrats boast about how "compassionate" they can be with other people's money, and Republicans trail along behind them, protesting that they can be compassionate, too. We all know who wins that contest. So part of Perry's fall since the last debate has been a visceral reaction to seeing him deploy an argument those of us on the right really hate when the left uses it against us.

But Romney hasn't exactly covered himself in glory in responding to Perry. Faced with a major challenger who stole his lead, Romney panicked and grabbed onto any argument he could to knock Perry down, including singing the praises of Social Security and, in the last debate, insinuating that Perry didn't write his own book. For me, at least, this has reinforced the sense that Romney is the guy who will do anything and say anything to get elected.

Mitt Romney might have seemed like a minimally acceptable candidate in a different year, if we were comfortable having a prudent, competent, consensus-seeking manager of the status quo. And I will still vote for him in the general election, if it comes to that, because "anybody but Obama" trumps "anybody but Romney." But a lot of people on the right sense that Barack Obama has caused so much damage, piled up so much debt, and moved the country so far in the direction of socialism that the next president will need to be bold enough to lead the country in a radical change of direction. And they know that Mitt Romney is not that man.

So after Perry disappointed them, Republican voters looked for someone new to enter the race, a savior to come in and be their new champion. But Mitch Daniels still isn't going to run, and Chris Christie seems to have once again shut the door, leaving only Sarah Palin as the potential new entry. All of these candidates have their own problems.

So Republican voters have also begun to look more closely at the candidates already running. Thus, the main beneficiary of Perry's troubles has been businessman Herman Cain, who just won the Florida straw poll. It's a straw poll, so its results have limited value. But they are a measure of enthusiasm, and traditionally the winner of the straw poll has gone on to win the nomination. I wouldn't take that trend too seriously, but it does indicate that people are starting to take Cain seriously.

The graph showing the RealClearPolitics poll averages tells the tale. Perry surged to a very high peak, then faded just as precipitously. Romney regained some support, but has not bounced back yet to his 25% ceiling. After making some progress, Ron Paul has faded back after quoting Osama bin Laden in support of his blame-America-first foreign policy. Newt Gingrich has steadily risen in the polls because in recent months that main source of information for Republican voters has been the debates, and if Newt Gingrich is good at one thing, it is talking. But the main action after Perry's fall has been a surge for Herman Cain. In fact, the latest Fox News poll shows 23% for Romney, 19% for Perry (putting him in second place for the first time since he announced), 11% for Gingrich, 6% for Paul, and even less for everyone else—and then a startling 17% for Cain.

What does that mean? In a crowded field, the greatest difficulty any candidate has is just getting noticed and considered. Well, now Herman Cain will get noticed and considered, and we will have a chance to look at him and decide if we think he's up for the job. It has already begun: Daniel Henninger makes the case for Cain in his latest Wall Street Journal column. And of course part of the fun of nominating Cain—it's not part of the case for him, but consider it an extra bonus—would be watching leftists twist themselves into knots still trying to claim that Republicans and Tea Partiers are racists. That, and watching the Democrats sweat over the prospect of losing their death grip on the black vote, especially considering how hard Obamanomics has hit black workers.

I like Cain but thought his early answers on foreign policy showed that it was a subject he has not thought about very much. That needs to change, and he also needs to select and name some of the experienced, knowledgeable advisors he would rely on in foreign and military affairs. That would give us some idea of what we could expect from his administration.

But now we know the next step of the campaign: the in-depth examination of Herman Cain. I don't know yet if Herman Cain is the best man for the job. But we know one thing. Three quarters of Republican voters are very clear on what they want: anybody but Romney. 

Robert Tracinski is editor of The Tracinski Letter and a contributor to RealClearMarkets.

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