Time for Republicans to take a deep breath and remember what the pot of gold at the end of the Election 2012 rainbow really is: the defeat of Barack Obama.
Eleven weeks away from the presidential preference primary and the GOP field is still largely a fruited plain of ideologies and inexperience.
Who do Republican voters want, a candidate who agrees with their stand on every issue, or a candidate who can attract enough votes to beat President Obama? Surely the answer to that one is obvious.
In the end it doesn't matter where a candidate stands on gay marriage or abortion or what God he worships. It doesn't matter what color he is or what gender. It doesn't even matter if he's a fiscal conservative because, frankly, who admits he isn't? It only matters if he wins. If a candidate doesn't win, his stand on any issue -- however lofty -- matters not a hoot.
Remember the years each party nominated an ideologue? The Republicans tapped Barry Goldwater in 1964, the Democrats George McGovern in 1972. Both flopped like rag dolls. While ideologues in the 2012 race, like Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, attract passionate devotees, seldom are there enough crossovers or independents to win a general election.
Forget the numbers you think you see. Barack Obama is a sitting president. Sitting presidents are practiced, connected, well-financed and usually find a way to transcend bad numbers. Not that this president, with anemic approval ratings, isn't vulnerable -- he is. But he won't go down without an almighty scrap.
Remember the coattails factor and how much is at stake here.
We're looking potentially at a new congressional majority. Do Republicans want to see Nancy Pelosi back as speaker of the House in 2013? Do they want another six years of crashing under-performer Bill Nelson? By offering up a weak or ideological presidential nominee, that's what the coattails factor can mean.
Another reason why we have to keep our eye on the prize is that the next president is likely to be making at least one Supreme Court nomination. Four justices over the age of 70 are ripe for retirement: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 78; Antonin Scalia, 75; Anthony Kennedy, 75; and Stephen Breyer, 73. Obama has already put two justices on the high court: Sonia Sotomayor and Eleana Kagan.
There really is only one candidate in the crowded GOP field who can give Obama a run for his money and that is Mitt Romney.
Romney may not be perfect. Many conservatives distrust him. Ryan Rhodes, founder of an Iowa Tea Party group, said: "Mitt Romney is still the East Coast liberal he has always been." The religious right don't like him much either. Many there distrust his Mormon religion, failing to see it as Christian theology.
But Romney is solid on the economy. And the 2012 election, like 2008, is all about the economy.
Steve Mitchell, chairman of the Republican polling firm Mitchell Research, claims that what has made the former governor of Massachusetts such a great candidate is that he's been through the process before. "What few scandals lie in Romney's past, such as once hiring a gardening firm that employed illegal immigrants, are old news," said Mitchell. "Romney's secret strength is that he has made no headlines. He's been thoroughly vetted and other candidates have not."
Romney is unquestionably the front-runner in the Republican race, polling well even with the rest of the field climbing all over each other to be the sole "anti-Romney" candidate. But let's have a look at the rest of the field and why they won't wash:
- Newt Gingrich, a speaker of the House (way) back in the day, now on his third marriage, has prickly personal baggage that gives him negative polling numbers among women voters in particular.
- Herman Cain, the former pizza magnate, never won an election, has zero foreign policy experience, trips over the issues publicly and is mired in a sexual harassment scandal.
- Texas Gov. Rick Perry does a fair amount of issue-trashing himself. He isn't ready for prime time either.
- U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota has seen her time come and go. With virtually no executive experience, she is a talker, not a doer, getting nowhere fast in most polls.
- Multimillionaire Jon Huntsman, like Romney a Mormon, has some interesting experience in Asia, but we're still waiting to find out why he's running.
- Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania is all about social issues. Sadly, the man can't stay focused on Issue No. 1, the economy. Not only does he have no executive experience, he lost his re-election bid for U.S. Senate in 2006.
- Rep. Ron Paul of Texas hasn't got executive experience either, but he does have an enthusiastic cadre of supporters who love him in spite of his overwhelming lack of charisma. He is all about lower taxes and isolationism.
The things that can hurt Romney in the Jan. 31 primary – his moderate policies as governor of Massachusetts – could help in a presidential election. It's going to be hard to paint him as an extremist. Dems are already gunning for him, calling him uncaring and too cozy with Wall Street.
Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu is traveling around the Granite State with Romney, singing his praises. And it's helping. "Mitt Romney is the man this country needs to be the next president."
"Romney is not every Republican's first choice, but he is going to be an acceptable choice," said Patrick Griffin, a political consultant to numerous Republican campaigns and now an expert at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.
There's a reason why an average 64 percent of voters in the last 10 presidential elections have voted against a candidate rather than for him. If non-Romney Republicans want to unseat Barack Obama, they'd better consider holding their noses and voting for Romney anyway.
This is an opinion column: Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.