In theory, an extended presidential nominating race doesn’t have to be a disaster for the candidates or their party. The process, at least on paper, can force the candidates to hone their message, sharpen responses to common attacks, and avoid complacency. As weeks turn to months turn to seasons, a longer race even helps keep the candidates and their message in the national eye in advance of the general election.
Party officials tend to hate lengthy intra-party races – at a minimum, they’re expensive – but as we saw four years ago in the Obama-Clinton competition, the process can actually help a party and the eventual nominee.
The RNC chair and his predecessor want us to believe that 2012 is no different. Sure, it looks like Republicans are tearing each other apart, and the longer-than-expected race is benefiting Democrats, but, party leaders argue, this messiness is constructive and ultimately beneficial.
It’s a nice spin, but Dave Weigel makes a persuasive case against it.
At a glance, the 2012 Republican primary looks a lot like the 2008 Democratic race. But that campaign pitted a well-liked candidate who would be the first African-American president against a well-like candidate who would have been the first female president. Neither ran a particularly negative campaign. Go and check out the most brutal ad that Obama aired against Hillary. He criticized her because the New York Times, “her hometown paper,” said she was “taking the low road.” That was it. With precious little ideological or policy space between them, the candidates waged war over whether the Democrats should nominates a figure of hope or a pragmatist.
Now, look back at Romney-Santorum…. The front-runner who wants to play moderate if he wins – the guy who said today that he refuses to “set my hair on fire” and go brutal on Obama – isn’t reacting well to pressure. He looks weaker, and polls weaker, than he has for months.
In 2008, Hillary Clinton made Barack Obama a vastly better candidate. In 2012, Romney’s rivals are making the former governor look worse.
What’s more, as the process continues to unfold, Romney continues to fare worse against the president in hypothetical match-ups, while struggling to get people to like him. Here’s TPM’s latest chart showing the former governor’s favorable/unfavorable numbers (the red line reflects Romney’s unfavorability).
As Ezra Klein makes the case today that the process is putting Romney and the GOP “in a weaker position.” I’m very much inclined to agree.