But in the end, I think we know where this thing is headed: Romney. His weakness, that he doesn’t provide a starkly different ideological profile, is actually his strength in a general election. If the 2012 election is a referendum on the Obama presidency, Republicans will very likely win. Romney would make it a referendum. If there is a vivid ideological choice, next November’s election would be a more evenly matched fight. Voters doubt Obama is big enough for the job. Polls and focus groups show that swing voters like him and don’t question his motives or intentions. They just don’t think he is getting the job done. They will pick a Republican who presents a competent alternative.
Too often, a party wins because voters are angry with the party in power. It wins not because of what it is or what it stands for, but because of what it isn’t. As soon as the victory celebrations are over, an ideological mandate is retroactively constructed and adopted. It’s quickly forgotten why a party won—both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of this. Right now, the American people aren’t looking for ideology. They are looking for competence.
Romney is in no way a sure bet next November. But he is the best shot Republicans have against Obama. Money, organization, candidate skills—Romney, unlike the rest of the field, seems to have the fundamentals down. I think we know how this movie ends.