While not yet technically official, Mitt Romneyâs victory in the 2012 GOP nomination was one of the easier victories in recent history. The race seemed to drag on for longer than in previous years as result of a complicated delegate system and a stretched-out primary calendar. Here is a look at some of the realities and myths surrounding Romneyâs apparent victory.
Reality: The Primary Featured a Generally Weak FieldFollowing the tea party surge over the past four years, many had hoped that the conservative resurgence within the Republican Party would carry over into the 2012 presidential primary. That didnât happen. Most of the potential candidates for a tea party presidential run were 2010 congressional and gubernatorial victors. Given the focus on experience and qualifications for presidential candidates, it was always much more likely that the tea party conservatives would be more dominant in future national elections than in 2012.
Probably only two people would have really challenged Romney in the long run. Mike Huckabee, while not a tea party guy and more on the establishment side as well, would have had the name recognition and support to launch a formidable campaign. But the main obstacle for Romney would have been Sarah Palin, a candidate with intimidating tenacity, an ability to raise money at will, and the benefit of being able to turn out a crowd of 10,000 without even trying. When Palin decided not to run, it seemed only more a question of when Romney would become the GOP nominee, not whether if he would.
Myth: Romney Spent His Way to Victory
The first myth of the 2012 primary is that Romney blew his competition away in spending. In reality, Romneyâs fundraising and spending was relatively normal to what most serious contenders would expect to raise and spend to compete in a presidential primary. Romney actually spent more money in his losing 2008 effort when he outspent McCain by a wide margin.
The bigger issue was that Romneyâs primary opponents, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, simply couldnât raise enough money to compete or fund a serious campaign. Both challengers raised and spent far less money than John McCain, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and Ron Paul raised and spent four year earlier. In reality, they barely had the war chest to launch a competitive senate campaign, much less a run for the White House.
Romney âoutspentâ his opposition because he was running ads in states well ahead of the primary dates and he competed in nearly every single state, two things his competitors didnât even attempt to do. And ask Rick Perry if a lot of cash is enough to win an election, or even a single primary. Despite raising $20 million, roughly what Santorum and Gingrich raised despite running for 3 months longer, Perry finished a distant 5th in Iowa and headed back to Texas for good.
Reality: Romney Was Organized, Few Others Were
Winning in politics is a lot more than having the right positions and convincing enough people to vote for you. One of Romneyâs chief advantages is that he was one of only two candidates to develop a competent organizational structure. Figure that other than Romney only Ron Paul appeared on every ballot opposite him. Santorum and Gingrich failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the Virginia ballot, claiming it was just too difficult. They also either failed to qualify for or get a full slate of delegates on other ballots such as Ohio, Washington, D.C., Utah, Pennsylvania and Missouri.
The other big organizational feature of the Romney campaign, unmatched by any candidate, was his early voting efforts. While his opponents were scrambling to find volunteers in crucial states days before the primaries, Romney was banking large and insurmountable leads in states like Florida and Arizona, while getting a leg up by dominating the early voting stages in tighter contests like Michigan.
Myth: Newt and Rick Split the Conservative Vote
Another popular dig at Romneyâs victory is that he only won because Santorum and Gingrich split the conservative vote and gave Romney just enough votes to win. But of the first 19 states that Romney won, prior to the Santorum withdrawal, Romney won 16 of those by margins greater than the combined vote of Santorum and Gingrich.
There were only three states that Romney won where the margin of victory was lower than the combined vote for Santorum and Gingrich: Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Romneyâs lead likely was still too great to overcome in both Wisconsin and Michigan, however Romney probably would have lost Ohio, where he won by a slim margin. But the reality is, in 18 of 19 primary contests won by Romney, the âconservatives split the voteâ argument doesnât even work in theory.
Reality: Broad Support
The final reason for Romneyâs victory was his broad ability to assemble a broad range of support from wide-ranging voters. Yes, it is true that Romney was the establishment favorite and enjoyed their backing. It is also true that the conservative media, led primarily by talk radio, was opposed to Romney. But at the end of the day, Romney was able to build a coalition of moderate and conservative Republicans, some because they actually liked him and others who simply felt he was the best chance at beating Obama. Exit polls showed that Romney attracted a fair share of, and often won, the conservative vote in many states.
When it came to endorsements, Romney had the backing of many but the opposition had the support of few. High-profile backers willing to back Santorum or Gingrich publicly were few and far between. It appeared that people either chose to back Romney or simply stayed neutral until it was âsafeâ to back him. Sarah Palin, who has never been shy about endorsing a conservative challenger, offered timid and occasional support for the Gingrich campaign but never really pushed or endorsed him as a candidate. At the end of the day, Romney was the only candidate to run a serious campaign and put forth the required effort for victory. That, more than anything else, is why he is the 2012 Republican nominee for president.