x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

A damaged Romney's greatest asset is his weak opponent

In the race for the Republican Party nomination for the US presidency, Mitt Romney may not have been the smartest, most comfortable or most charismatic candidate, but he was certainly the most driven.

It was rough going, but Mitt Romney, having run the gamut of the US presidential primary process, has survived. He can now be considered the Republican Party's presumptive nominee.

From the beginning, Mr Romney had some distinct advantages. He had run before - in fact, he had not stopped running since losing to John McCain in 2008. He knew the process better, and was better prepared for the long haul than the neophytes who ran against him.

Relying on his friends and colleagues from the world of finance, Mr Romney had a huge money advantage. Not only was he able to amass a substantial war chest for his campaign, he also had a number of "unconnected" political fundraisers that spent lavishly on advertising campaigns and did the dirty work of destroying his opponents.

Given the weakness of his competitors, Mr Romney had the support, quietly at first but then more publicly, of the Republican establishment. This support helped his organising and fund-raising efforts. While his opponents were cash-strapped and forced to focus resources on early states or a few targeted regions, money and the backing of the establishment enabled Mr Romney's campaign to prepare in the states that voted later in the primary process.

Finally, Mr Romney, although not the smartest, most comfortable or most charismatic candidate, was certainly the most driven - and it was this quality that gave him the wherewithal to do whatever it took to win. Presidential politics can be a bloody business, and this year's contest was no exception.

For months, Mr Romney was pummelled by his opponents, embarrassed at times and forced to adopt positions that were totally inconsistent with his record. But, in the end, Mr Romney triumphed by refashioning himself as the true conservative standard bearer, which was not entirely convincing.

With everyone else besides Ron Paul out of the race, Mr Romney stands victorious, but the price of victory has been dear. An example of this cost was on display last week. Most of Mr Romney's former opponents, as flawed as each of them were, could not bring themselves to offer a full-throated endorsement of the man who had beaten them.

Some begrudgingly acknowledged that they would support him simply because they wanted to beat President Barack Obama in November. Others maintained that the struggle over the ideological direction of the party continued. Others decried the process as flawed, griping about big money and negative campaigns.

In addition to being a blood sport, presidential politics can be a disease that affects the egos of those who compete. Those who enter the fray often have serious ego issues to begin with. While most Republicans were dissatisfied with Mr Romney - and unhappy that many serious candidates stayed out of the race - the collection that did run ended up each taking the lead for a time until brought down by their own inadequacies or attacks from Mr Romney's big money machine.

Mr Romney's problem was never these opponents, it was with the Republican base. He was never the favourite of the religious right and social conservatives - a substantial group that constitutes nearly 40 per cent of the Republican base. Nor was he trusted by the core that formed the Tea Party.

During the campaign, Mr Romney attempted to court these hard-line voters. His inclination may now be to reset his positions and image to compete for the independent and moderate voters in the general election, but that would expose his right flank.

A battered Mr Romney, held on a short leash by his party's right wing, should be good news for Mr Obama, but with the deeply divided electorate, national polls are telling a different story. Mr Obama, it appears, may also have trouble re-energising his base and convincing independent voters. As a result, most polls show this Obama-Romney matchup may be as close and as bitterly contested as any in recent history.


James Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute

On Twitter: @aaiusa