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The Republicans' Mitt Romney Problem

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After Rick Santorum's surprising showing in the January 3rd Iowa caucuses, many observers asked, "Why didn't Mitt Romney win? What explains Santorum's late surge?" The answer lies at the core of contemporary Republican politics: they don't have one candidate that appeals to their fractured base.

A recent Pew Research poll revealed the remarkable diversity in the U.S. electorate. In 2012, Pew projects that 10 percent of potential voters, mostly young people, will not vote; Pew allocates the remaining 90 percent to three groups: "Mostly Republican," 25 percent, "Mostly Independent," 35 percent, and "Mostly Democratic," 40 percent. (This reflects ideology not actual Party registration.)

The "Mostly Republican" group includes "Staunch Conservatives" (11 percent) and "Main Street Republicans" (14 percent). Staunch Conservatives are older white voters who "take extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues -- on the size and role of government, on economics, foreign policy, social issues and moral concerns. Most agree with the Tea Party and... very strongly disapprove of Barack Obama's job performance." Main Street Republicans are similar but not as conservative; for example, they are more likely to house anti-corporation sentiment. Just outside the "Mostly Republican" group is a bloc of Independents, "Libertarians" (10 percent), that typically vote for the Republican presidential candidate.

Romney is not well accepted by Staunch Conservatives because of his, supposedly, liberal record as Governor of Massachusetts. These Tea Party radicals accuse Romney of being "Republican in name only" (RINO). They point out his transgressions: Romney approved of the TARP bank bailout; he designed the Massachusetts health care system that became the model for "Obamacare;" and his positions on values issues like abortion and gay rights have flip-flopped over the years.

Romney has an additional problem because he is a Mormon. In a June 2011 Gallup Poll, 20 percent of Republicans and Independents indicate they would not support a Mormon for president. Romney's religion was a factor in his poor showing in Iowa. A December Pew Research poll examining Republican voter attitudes about the candidates found "high negatives for Romney among white evangelicals." One evangelical predicted, "Eighty percent of evangelicals will not vote for Romney in a contested primary, and 20 to 30 percent will stay home or go third-party in the general election because of the Mormon issue and because they see him as an advocate of abortion and gay marriage."

The latest Gallup Tracking poll shows 34 percent of Republican respondents favor Romney, 14 percent want Newt Gingrich, 15 percent like Rick Santorum, and 13 percent prefer Ron Paul -- with other candidates in single digits. (In the New Hampshire Primary, Romney garnered 39 percent, Paul 23 percent, and the others split the remaining 38 percent.) Romney's ahead, as he has been all year, but he hasn't sold the majority of Republicans.

As the campaign has progressed, Romney has taken increasingly conservative positions. Romney proposes a six-step approach to job creation. He would "reduce the corporate income tax rate to 25 percent." He would accelerate free trade agreements. Romney would cut "non-discretionary Federal spending by 5 percent." He would "cut red tape" by eliminating Federal regulations that "unduly burden the economy or job creation." He would boost domestic oil production, "Direct the Department of the Interior to implement a process for rapid issuance of drilling permits." Finally, Romney would "pave the way to end Obamacare."

Romney began his political career as pro-choice but switched positions in 2007 and adopted the conservative stance: life begins at conception, Roe v. Wade should be overturned, and there should be a "Human Life" constitutional amendment to ban abortion. At the beginning of his career Romney supported gay rights but in 2005 he stated his opposition to gay marriage and civil unions. Romney believes in man-made global warming but "is not certain to the extent that man is causing the change in the environment." He advocates U.S. energy independence that includes both reliance on renewables and energy sources such as "clean coal," nuclear, and domestic oil -- he supports construction of the Keystone pipeline.

Romney's biggest problem may not be his religion or his supposedly liberal record or his flip-flopping on major issues, but rather his record as a businessman. Romney's foes have gone on the attack and posted a video describing him as "corporate raider." Romney co-founded Bain Capital and over 25 years amassed a fortune estimated at $200 million. Bain Capital "is a classic 'strip and flip' shop -- a private equity firm that made its money buying businesses and sucking profit out of them by any means possible."

In American politics it's axiomatic that to win the presidency you have to hold onto your base, breakeven with Independents, and slice off a few votes from your opposition. Mitt Romney's problem is that it doesn't appear he can hold onto his Republican base much less garner Independent and Democratic votes.

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