Despite his Super Tuesday wins, including a narrow victory over rival Rick Santorum in the critical general election battleground state of Ohio, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has still not convinced his party that he represents their best chance of beating Barack Obama in November.
Romney’s disapproval ratings among independent voters have risen dramatically over the course of the primary campaign to such an extent that there are calls for other candidates to enter the race late.
According to former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough, the party is “on its way to an historic defeat in the fall unless they’re able to drag in some other candidates.”
Scarborough, the host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe and a Politico commentator, said on the Today show he would be “asking others to get into the race” if he were leading the party. He specifically mentioned former Florida governor Jeb Bush and the incumbent Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, who has endorsed Mitt Romney, as potential candidates. They are both popular with conservative activists and could appeal to the middle of the country.
According to opinion surveys, a majority of Republican primary voters is both dissatisfied about its choices and uncomfortable with the possibility of a Romney candidacy even if more than 60 percent of voters expect the former Massachusetts governor to eventually clinch the nomination.
Romney, also a former businessman, is perceived as a moderate by the conservative base of his party because he once favored abortion rights and implemented a health insurance system in Massachusetts that is markedly similar to President Obama’s signature health reform legislation which Republicans fought fiercely and hope will be repealed.
While conservatives would rather have a candidate that is more right-wing, centrist voters, who will decide the outcome of November’s presidential election, increasingly regard the Republican Party warily because of its reactionary positions on social issues.
As Scarborough pointed out, “the gender gap now is over 20 percent” which is probably because Rick Santorum has described contraception as a “grievous moral wrong” and “a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be” while Republicans in Congress battled a federal mandate that compels religious schools and hospitals to buy insurance plans for their employees which cover birth control.
“That’s a landslide waiting to happen,” said Scarborough. Without the women’s vote, the Republican candidate couldn’t possibly win.
Moreover, “only 14 percent of Hispanics say they would vote for any of these Republican candidates” because they are seen as anti-immigration.
George W. Bush, by contrast, won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000 which enabled him to carry Florida by an incredibly slim margin and win the national election.
If Rick Santorum’s strong social conservatism is an impediment, Newt Gingrich’s bombastic rhetoric is equally troubling. He routinely describes the president as a radical and accuses him of pursuing a “war on religion.” He is the least popular among voters who do not identify as Republicans.
Scarborough dismissed Newt Gingrich’s candidacy in January, after the former House speaker had staged a surprise victory in South Carolina’s presidential primary, describing Gingrich as “the vessel” for Republicans “who want a brokered convention.”
A brokered or contested convention is possible if, by late August, when the party is supposed to formally nominate a candidate, none of the four men who are currently in the race has accumulated enough delegates yet to win on a first ballot. Someone who didn’t participate in the primaries, like Chris Christie or Jeb Bush, could be nominated there once the delegates are “released.”
Some 40 percent of delegates has been selected so far. Large states including Illinois, Louisiana, Texas, New York and California have yet to vote in the primary contest. Each has a huge numbers of delegates at stake.
Gingrich, Santorum and Ron Paul stand little chance of gathering enough delegates between now and August to win the nomination outright but Romney faces a similar challenge: he would have to win half of the remaining delegates to become the nominee without risking a contested convention. If all of his three rivals stay in the race, and they have no reason to drop out, that may well be impossible.