For years Mitt Romney and his army of surrogates in the Republican Establishment have been pushing the Mittster as the best bet for conservatives in 2012. Never mind he’s not a conservative, he’s the one candidate who can beat Obama, we’re told. I debunked the Romney electability myth in a post last week. Today, in a piece at the Weekly Standard, Jonathan V. Last takes another look at the “Romney is electable” narrative that Mitt and his cronies in the beltway are trying — and failing — to sell. In his article, Last examines career candidate Romney’s electoral record in depth. His findings were startling, and further illuminate the absurdity of the Romney electability myth (emphasis mine).
Romney has spent the 20 years of his political career whipsawing from one view to another. But so have lots of politicians. The only thing particularly distinctive about Romney’s positioning is that normally politicians evolve from one stance to the next as they march upward through government. They win an election with one set of positions, and then have to modify their beliefs in order to play on a larger stage.
Romney’s changes in position have followed defeats, rather than victories. He’s progressed from liberal New Republican (1994) to moderate technocrat (2002) to rock-ribbed movement conservative (2006) to sane, free-market Mr. Fix-It (2011). (The 2006 transformation came when it was clear from polling that he could not possibly win reelection as governor of Massachusetts.) But other than this stylistic oddity, there’s no real reason Romney’s flip-flops should cripple him more than, say, Newt Gingrich’s many changes of position over the years have hampered his ability to attract support.
If none of the conventional wisdom is fully satisfying as an explanation for why Romney is now stuck in the mid-20s, then, perhaps a more elemental explanation will do: Voters just don’t like him very much. And they never have.
Romney has the least-impressive electoral history of any Republican frontrunner in a very long time. Most of the politicians who chase the White House are proven vote-getters with very few electoral blemishes on their record. John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Bill Clinton, John Kerry, George W. Bush, Bob Dole, Michael Dukakis—what unites all of these men is that before getting to the presidential level, they had demonstrated a talent for getting people to vote for them. (Barack Obama is the exception who proves the rule.)
Over the years, Mitt Romney has faced voters in 22 contests. He won 5 of those races and lost 17 of them. (This total includes a win in the 1994 Massachusetts Republican Senate primary as well as results from the 19 primaries he participated in during 2008. It excludes caucuses because their rules make them complicated enough to be considered distinct from straight-up lever-pulling.)
Romney’s electoral record becomes even more underwhelming when you examine the particulars. He first attracted national notice in 1994 when he mounted what was considered a strong challenge to incumbent senator Ted Kennedy. But when it came time to vote, Romney lost by 17 points in what turned out to be the best year for Republicans in more than half a century. In 2002, Romney won the gubernatorial race in Massachusetts. This victory—the triumph of a Republican in deep-blue Massachusetts—is now the cornerstone of his 2012 “electability” rationale.
Yet Romney’s victory was, as a matter of raw political power, less impressive than it seems. Romney was actually the fourth in a string of Republican governors who ran the state from 1990 until 2006. Of that group, Romney received the lowest percentage of the vote, failing to break the 50-percent mark in his 2002 victory. He took home a smaller share of the vote even than Paul Cellucci, the political nonentity who won the 1998 election. After three years in office, Romney’s approval rating was so low that he was forced to abandon hope of reelection. Romney’s term concluded with a Democrat winning the governor’s office for the first time in 20 years.
Mitt’s gone before voters 22 times, and 17 times they weren’t buying what he was selling. Think about that. Remind me again, by what metric is someone with as dismal an electoral record as Romney considered electable? Read Last’s entire piece here.