Kimberly Strassel’s Wall Street Journal column, “Mr. Good Enough,” outlines the argument that the GOP is “settling” for Mitt Romney. She names five other GOPers who might have gotten into the race and beaten Romney –Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio– and to that list she could have added Sarah Palin, John Thune and Haley Barbour and might also have noted that Tim Pawlenty ought to have hung for a while longer.
Each of those might have won the nomination, but each of them made a calculation that they would not run, and Romney’s formidable skills as a candidate had a lot to do with the field being cleared. Those GOP voters who would have preferred one of the above to run are not going to be as enthusiastic about Romney as they would have been had their own preferred candidate had run, but clearing most of the field of most of the formidable opposition tells us something of Romney’s strengths as perceived by his strongest competitors. They didn’t want to get in the ring. Many had very good reasons not to, but they are professionals, and professionals know when to fold the hand.
HH: Let me ask you just as a professional, not your hope for, not your wishes and dreams, who would you have to predict right now is going to be the Republican nominee in 2012?
SS: If I had to bet money on it, if I had to bet money on it today, you’d have to say that the people that I think look very good, very strong right now are Governor Romney, Governor Huntsman. I think Newt Gingrich, should he run, is going to be a very formidable, very formidable candidate. But the history of the Republican Party nominating process is that it almost always goes to someone who’s been around the track once before. And in that instance, in this instance, it would be Governor Romney. I thought he was a very scary opponent looking from the other side of the table in that he was almost like a learning organism at the end. He just kept getting better week by week by week, and kept becoming stronger. And I think these national campaigns are very unique, and I think most people learn a great deal with they go through them. And I think one of the reasons that President Bush was able to make it through the process the first time, unlike most people on the Republican side, is because he had been up close and personal through a couple of national races. And I think Mitt Romney is a candidate, is a far stronger candidate, prospectively, for the ’12 race because of his experience in ’08 than he was heading into the ’08 race.
If he wins tonight, Mitt Romney will almost certainly be the nominee. Indeed if he finishes in the top three and wins next week in New Hampshire, he will almost certainly be the nominee. And far from being merely “good enough,” there are reasons to believe he will be an enormously effective candidate and an accomplished president.
The best reason to conclude that: All along Team Obama has most feared a Romney candidacy, training almost all of their firepower on the former Massachusetts governor in the hope of denying him the fall showdown with President Obama. “Mr. Good Enough” to some GOPers is “Mr. Worst Case” to the president.