With the general election under way, a lasting storyline of the primary season — Mitt Romney’s base problem — is quickly disintegrating.
It’s not earth-shattering news that Republicans, who abhor the president, are willing to stand with their nominee, but the speed with which Romney was able to consolidate his base is striking to close observers of the brutal primary. With the base shoring up nicely, Romney is able to focus his attention on the wider electorate, where polling shows he has serious ground to make up.
Observers say Romney has Hilary Rosen to thank for his good fortune among a base that has long viewed him with deep skepticism. Indeed, with general election polls still showing Romney losing big among women, the Rosen moment appears to have nevertheless ignited the GOP base.
“Romney has Obama to thank for this,” unaligned GOP consultant Rick Wilson said in an email. “Fluke, Hilary Rosen, forcing religious orgs to violate their principles … it was a perfect storm right as the GOP primary wound down. All our base are belong to Mitt.”
The standing ovations and raucous applause showered on Romney at a tea party rally in Philadelphia Monday night certainly suggest Wilson’s reading the situation right. But some conservatives who are still wary.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll out Tuesday shows Republicans are lining up behind their presumptive presidential nominee.
“Fully 69 percent of Republicans — including 80 percent of conservative Republicans — now hold favorable views of the former Massachusetts governor, both career highs,” the Post concludes in its analysis. But the poll noted the new Republican enthusiasm for Romney is higher among GOP men than women, suggesting Romney’s gap with female voters extends even to those of his own party.
A Monday Gallup poll showed Romney winning 90 percent of the GOP vote in the general election against Obama, the same level of support among his own party Obama had among Democrats in the poll.
Early general election polling has been all over the map — showing either candidate up at various times, and by wildly variant margins — but one storyline has carried throughout: Romney’s got a likeability problem in the general. The ABC/Post poll found Romney to be “less popular than any recent major party nominee in available Post-ABC polling dating to 1984.”
Team Romney thinks it can close that gap, and without having to focus on winning over its own base, it can focus on that task. Romney can now pivot toward general election issues, his campaign says, providing room for him to close the likeability gap.
“Give us a chance to run our campaign,” Romney adviser Eric Ferhnstrom told Fox News Tuesday. “We have seven months ahead of us.”
Some conservative leaders are still holding out — Rick Santorum hasn’t endorsed Romney yet, and well-known conservative political icon Richard Viguerie has warned his fellow travelers on the right not to line up behind Romney without getting some guarantees that he will acknowledge their priorities.
But other conservatives are more eager to see the Republican infighting of the primaries end.
“No question at end of the day when voters go into the booth if they vote for Mitt Romney they will have someone with a proven track record, a very smart guy, an optimistic guy people can trust on the economy who knows how to grow it, versus Barack Obama who has a proven track record how to lose millions of jobs and tank the economy,” Michele Bachmann, who has not yet officially endorsed Romney, told Fox Tuesday. “We have a strong compare and contrast. Now it’s a challenge of bringing together all of the factions of the party to get behind our eventual nominee.”
Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks — the corporate-backed wing of the tea party movement that ardently opposed Romney — told The Atlantic his group is going to steer clear of Romney and focus on congressional races instead. Kibbe said that it remains to be seen whether conservatives will actually get to work for Romney in the fall.
“The question is whether the enthusiasm is going to be there to turn out and work and build a ground game for Mitt Romney. Romney still has work to do if he wants to really drive that energy,” he told The Atlantic.