Just by way of analysis, not meaning to be pro- or anti-Romney’s candidacy — but can anybody give me even a halfway convincing explanation for why the commentariat thinks that Mitt Romney is so much more electable than some of the other GOP candidates? (And no, polls don’t count: Polls aren’t actual analysis, and head-to-head polls for next fall mean absolutely nothing at this stage of a race other than a rough sense of name ID. If they did, Jimmy Carter would have beaten Ronald Reagan by 32 points.)
Usually, at this level, past performance is as good an indicator as anything else. Well, Romney’s past electoral performance is decidely weak. In 1994, as Rick Santorum was pulling an upset to win a Senate seat in Pennsylvania, Romney was getting crushed by Ted Kennedy — in a race where Kennedy actually was seen, even three weeks out, to be far more vulnerable than usual, because the tawdriness of his nephew’s late-1991 rape trial (and his role therein) combined with the overall tawdriness of his long-running behavior, combined with a nationwide revolt against Democrats, made Massachusetts voters unusually open (according to all sorts of polls and focus groups) to replacing him. But, again, Romney got absolutely crushed.
In 2002, Romney won the governorship; in 2006, he chickened out of running for re-election; and in 2008, despite all sorts of financial advantages, he found a way to lose the Republican nomination fairly decisively to a seriously underfunded John McCain, losing a long string of individual primaries in the process.
So, overall, his electoral record is 1-2 — or, if you count each state in 2008 as a separate contest, which might not be exactly fair, he’s something like 2-17.
Add last week’s Iowa result, where he underperformed again (and earned exactly six FEWER votes than he earned in 2008), and you have a candidate who just doesn’t seen to be able to deliver on Election Day.
By contrast, Rick Perry famously has never lost an election (but then again, he hasn’t exactly had as tough a row to hoe in Republican-friendly Texas, and barely won re-election for governor in 2006 over an underfunded Democrat). Rick Santorum, running every single time in battles that were uphill or (once) no better than 50-50 shots (i.e. in districts or a state that was not friendly to Republicans), has won four out of five elections, and outperformed other Republicans in his state in almost every case in doing so. (For instance, in 2000 he won PA by four points while GW Bush was losing it by 5; in 2006, even in losing, he lost by less than the GOP candidate for governor that year did.)
Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, and Ron Paul aren’t really easy to categorize, because they either come for slam-dunk Republican states (Huntsman) or they haven’t run in anything bigger than a congressional district (Gingrich, although as a national proxy candidate he helped Dole lose in 1996 and the GOP lose House seats in 1998), or their candidacies are so sui generis (Paul) and their electoral history so odd (Paul again, running for president on the Libertarian ticket once) that it makes comparisons difficult. But it’s clear that none of those three has shown any reason for anybody to believe they can compete very well on a national stage, and Perry’s performance so far this year indicates he perhaps wasn’t prepared for national issues.
Which leaves, again, Santorum, having won four of five elections and overperformed so far on the presidential stage, and Romney, having so far lost two of three elections and badly underperformed on the presidential stage. So it makes no sense at all to assume that Romney is more electable in the fall against Barack Obama’s $800 million.