The Reagan-loving Republican Party is suffering from a deep deficiency of the Gipper's sunny optimism as it fears Mitt Romney is totally doomed to lose the 2012 presidential election despite all kinds of data to the contrary. Earlier this month, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough declared, "I've yet to meet a single person in the Republican establishment who thinks Mitt Romney will win the general election this year." In March, conservative columnist George Will urged Republicans to give up on Romney and concentrate on winning the Senate. On Friday, Politico's Jonathan Martin reports that the pessimism is pervasive, "apparent in rampant discussions about which Republicans will run in 2016 - talk that obviously presupposes a loss in November -- and it’s downright glaring in private conversations with GOP officials on Capitol Hill and in consulting shops across Washington."
What's weird about all this is that not only are there all kinds of polling data showing Romney isn't doomed at all, but the thing they think doomed him, a long primary, has historically benefited candidates who went on to be elected.
First, the polls should be cheering Republicans. Gallup's tracking poll has Romney beating Obama by 48 percent to 43 percent. The Wall Street Journal's Neil King reports Obama's current lead over Romney -- 49 percent to 43 percent -- is just within its margin of error. More Americans think Romney has good ideas for fixing the economy than think Obama does. Further, King writes:
The public, by a slightly wider margin, also gave Mr. Romney higher marks over the president for an ability to change the political tone in Washington, which was one of Mr. Obama's primary campaign pledges in 2008.
(Silly voters never learn. The tone will never change! Accept this and move on.)
Second, even by the less immediately measurable factors, Obama is in trouble. The best guide to Obama's chances for reelection -- the state of the economy -- still looks shaky. The lead A-1 story in The Nw York Times Friday was headlined, "Fears Rise That Recovery May Falter in the Spring."
And third, history shows that a long primary, which Republicans think cursed Romney, isn't such a bad thing after all. One Republican told Politico's Martin, "It was the fact that it took him so long to sort it out... As it went along, you could feel the discouragement." Here's Salon's Andrew O'Hehir talking about Obama's grim chances almost exactly four years ago:
[T]he Democratic Party is caught in an excruciating Catch-22 of its own making. Democrats are acutely aware that once they finally choose a candidate — whether it’s the reformer or the Establishment figure — history offers many paths to defeat, and few to victory. But the tortuous indecision of the 2008 campaign (as in the ’84 and ’72 campaigns) may itself prove fatal.
Even more amusing is this New York Times editorial from April 8, 1992, after Bill Clinton won the New York primary, but not by much:
Almost everyone could find some comfort in yesterday's Democratic primary results. Republicans could relish the complex new evidence that the Democrats seem never to tire of finding ways to tarnish their chances for victory in November.
Clinton, of course, went on to unseat a sitting president. It's still too early for Republicans to give up and go home.