Pew poll: Republicans aren't sure this long primary is good for the party

Last month, a majority of Republicans — 55 percent — said they thought the ongoing primary and caucus process is good for the party, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. Just 36 percent said they thought it was harmful. This month, the same poll showed a slim plurality of Republicans saying the process is positive. Just 47 percent said they think the long primary benefits the GOP, while 43 percent said they think it’s harmful. Political Ticker explains that, not surprisingly, voters’ opinions depend in part on which candidate they’re supporting:

More than half, 52%, of people supporting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, say the on-going process is bad for the party. But more of his opponents’ supporters see the on-going primary process as good for the GOP with nearly six in ten backers of former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and 53% of supporters of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich responding in favor.

Romney is the front-runner in the race for the nomination. He’s far ahead of his competition in the hunt for delegates, but still less than half way towards the 1,144 delegates needed to lock up the nomination. For Santorum and Gingrich, the best strategy is to make sure Romney doesn’t clinch the nomination by the end of the primary process in late June, and force the nomination battle to go all the way to the party convention in Tampa, Florida in late August.

Consider me in the camp that would have switched my response from last month to this month. But I’ll be completely honest: It’s because I’m panicked, too apt to give the Obama campaign more credit than it deserves. I’m afraid to give Obama more time to hone his magic act while Republicans are squabbling amongst themselves. I’m worried the Obama machine will trounce the GOP nominee — whoever that nominee proves to be — in November.

So I buy the conventional wisdom and the CW goes like this: While it’s technically still possible for Rick Santorum or even Newt Gingrich to capture the nomination, it’s highly unlikely. If Santorum and Gingrich do manage to keep Romney from securing a majority of delegates before August, Romney will likely still win on the first ballot at the convention. At that point, anti-Romney Republicans would have a couple months to muster enthusiasm for him. It’s not going to be easy for conservatives who’ve spent the last six months or so pounding Romney into the ground to be able to approach independents with compelling arguments for him. The more time they have to come around (because they know for a fact their choices are Romney or Obama), the better.

If Newt Gingrich drops out relatively soon and Rick Santorum trounces Romney in state after state from this point forward, then, perhaps, Romney wouldn’t win on the first ballot and enough delegates would switch their allegiance to Santorum in subsequent rounds of voting to throw the nomination to the former Pennsylvania senator. At that point, Santorum would have a couple months to campaign against Obama as the official GOP nominee and it’d be tough. Consider: The last winning U.S. presidential nominee produced by a brokered/contested convention was FDR in 1932. It’s just not that easy to pivot from a last-minute conclusion of a protracted primary process to victory in the general election.

A long primary makes it hard on congressional candidates, too: Donors and voters are too focused on the presidential election to be of much help to other candidates. Yet, the House and Senate are arguably more important than the White House.

Nothing says I’d have to think conventionally about all of this, though: We are in an unconventional election cycle, after all. Obama is unlike any Democrat we’ve ever seen and more and more Americans have seen his true colors over the past four years. He has a record now and the election will be to some extent about that record — more about it than the 2008 election was, at least.

On his radio program yesterday, Rush flat-out said, “Don’t buy the conventional wisdom about a brokered convention.” I wish I didn’t.

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