According to one top Democrat, even the short primary process has robbed Mitt Romney of the one general election advantage he once had: his ability to run as a moderate.
There’s a big chance that Saturday’s South Carolina primary will spell the end of the Republican primaries. If the polls hold and Romney wins, he’ll likely have the momentum he needs to snag the Republican presidential nomination he’s been after for six years.
So it seems like a good time to talk about who Romney is now, and what he’ll be in the general election. Gov. Martin O’Malley (D-MD), the chair of the Democratic Governors Association and the man Democrats dispatched to bracket the penultimate South Carolina Republican primary debate Monday, reflected on a post-primary Romney in a telephone chat. He said Romney has come out of the relatively short sprint to the top of the GOP field much weaker as a general election candidate than went he went in.
“I think there was some thought that he’d be a formidable candidate because of his moderate positions,” O’Malley said. “But in the course of this primary, he seems to have jettisoned those positions and he seems to have taken on in some cases like immigration a position that’s to the right of most of his field including Newt Gingrich.”
Romney’s shift to the right from his years as a pro-choice, health care-reforming Republican governor of Massachusetts have been well documented. But it’s interesting to note that even with a relatively truncated primary process — remember that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton went on for months before Obama took home the win — Romney’s still moved as far away from where he used to be as he has.
One area O’Malley pointed to was immigration, which Romney heralds as one of his most lasting areas of conservative purity. Romney’s on the trail these days standing with some of the right’s most popular — and divisive — names on the topic of immigration. As my colleague Pema Levy has been reporting, Romney’s hardline stance on immigration issues threatens to derail Republican attempts to reach out to Latino voters.
O’Malley said Romney’s immigration rhetoric, which has become a centerpiece of his campaign thanks to the brief but brutal fight he had with Rick Perry over in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants, will hurt him with more than just Latinos.
“I think he’s had to move very far to the right on immigration and I think that’s going to create big problems for him, not only with Latinos but also any American voter bloc,” O’Malley said. The primaries are behind what the Democrat sees as a real liability for Romney come fall.
“It’s part of this process, this gauntlet that he had to run through Republican primaries that have been very much influenced by the extremism of the tea party movement, that he’s had to in the case of immigration move to right of Newt Gingrich,” O’Malley said. “And I think that creates big problems for his electability in the general election.”
Anything could happen in Saturday’s primary voting, so Romney’s seemingly smooth path to the nomination could look a lot rockier than it does now. But that just means a longer fight for conservative votes — and more of the televised debates that have forced Romney to abandon his moderate past time and time again.
O’Malley would be happy with that outcome, too.
“In a way I think [the debates] have almost been the best advertisement for President Obama’s focus. You’re not seeing really a focus from [the GOP candidates] on jobs,” he said. “They warm over the same old trickle-down economic theories that were the failures that got us into this problem in the first place.”