Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, celebrates his Florida primary election win at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Fla., Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Mitt Romney is the least appealing front-runner for a Republican presidential nomination since Herbert Hoover convinced an appropriately skeptical Grand Old Party to renominate him in 1932.
And Hoover, for all his faults, was a far more commendable figure than the Bain Capitalist will ever be.
Romney has scant personal appeal, as polling and anecdotal evidence confirms on a daily basis. After pondering several options for the most ironically absurd headline of the week, the editors of the satirical newspaper the Onion chose for their current edition: “Romneymania Sweeps America.”
Romney, pro-choice before he was anti-choice, pro–healthcare reform before he was anti–healthcare reform, has no ideological appeal to a party of purists.
And Romney, now fully identified as the poster boy for crony capitalism, rapacious greed and tax avoidance, has an increasingly limited appeal as a potentially electable Republican nominee in November. As former Florida Governor Charlie Crist said after the former Massachusetts governor won Tuesday night’s Florida primary, the Republican fight so far — and the fight from here on out — "has to have a negative impact" on party unity and Romney’s ultimate prospects.
Even with Tuesday night’s Florida win, Romney has yet to show that he has what it takes to unify a majority of Republicans behind his candidacy. He has not done that in any of the primary and caucus states that have voted thus far; nor is he anywhere near doing that in national polls. This explains why the candidates who got the majority of Florida votes — Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul — will stay in a race where 95 percent of Republican National Convention delegates are still to be chosen.
On Tuesday night, Gingrich backers, as enthusiastic as ever, held up signs that read: "46 States to Go!" Promising a "people power" versus "money power" race through the rest of those states, Gingrich portrayed himself as the "conservative alternative" to Romney, "the Massachusetts moderate."
That is not an unrealistic frame for the remainder of the Republican race. Florida Republicans are far more moderate and pragmatic than Republicans in many of the primary and caucus states to come. So while the overall Florida results are comforting to Romney, the voting patterns among Republicans who approve of the Tea Party and among core conservatives provide comfort for Gingrich — and, to a lesser extent, for Santorum and Paul.
Of the two-thirds of Florida primary voters who told exit pollsters they support the Tea Party movement, 60 percent rejected Romney. Among the almost 70 percent of Florida primary voters who identified as conservatives, the overwhelming majority rejected Romney. Indeed, the frontrunner only beat Gingrich among self-identified conservatives by 4 points. And, among the one-third of Florida primary voters who identified themselves as "very conservative," Gingrich won 43 percent to just 29 percent for Romney.