I come neither to bury Mitt Romney nor to praise him. Instead, I hope to persuade you that you should be rooting for Romney to win the Republican nomination for president. And yes, by "you" I mean liberals who are planning to vote for Barack Obama in 2012.
Now, I realize this proposition is counterintuitive. However reluctant Republicans seem to be about getting behind their supposedly inevitable standard-bearer, most Democrats and independents understand that Romney is by far the strongest of a remarkably weak Republican field.
If Obama's re-election is all that matters, then of course it would be better for the president to take on a divisive figure like Newt Gingrich, the latest anti-Romney flavor of the month among conservative Republicans. Needless to say, Obama supporters would be beside themselves with joy if the Republicans were to nominate an even more flawed candidate like Herman Cain (who could be gone by the time you read this), Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann.
Romney, unlike most of his Republican rivals, is a credible candidate with real management experience in both the private sector and in government. You can picture him as president without breaking into a cold sweat. As governor of Massachusetts, he was a competent leader who did some good things (most notably on health care, as you may have heard) and some bad (demagoguing against same-sex marriage). Until he started running for president midway through his sole four-year term, he was moderate, pragmatic and results-oriented -- everything today's Republican Party is not.
I realize this is not a good week to try to make a case for Romney. His lying ad about Obama was repulsive in its cynicism -- but no more so than his flogging of Perry for taking pretty much the same position on immigration that Romney himself did a few years ago.
Yet if Romney fails to win the nomination, it could be disastrous for the country, for the Republican Party and even for the Obama presidency. Let me take these one at a time.
1. It would be bad for the country. Nearly three years into the Obama era, the economy is still in miserable shape. With Europe collapsing as a result of the debt crisis afflicting Greece and Italy, and now spreading to other countries, we could very well be heading into another recession in 2012.
Obama's bold-if-not-quite-bold-enough steps in 2009 -- the stimulus package, the bailout of the financial and auto industries and related measures -- may very well have averted a 1930s-style depression. But that's of little comfort to millions of Americans who are out of work, stuck with bad mortgages and angry. Obama could lose his re-election bid even to the likes of Gingrich or Perry if things get worse. If they get much worse -- well, would you want to bet against Bachmann or Ron Paul if the unemployment rate hits 15 percent?
My point is that Obama could lose no matter who his Republican opponent turns out to be. Given that obvious fact, do you really want to take a chance on Obama's losing to anyone other than Romney?
2. It would be bad for the Republican Party. The party of Lincoln -- not to mention Dwight Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush -- has become a destructive force in recent years, wedded to discredited ideas such as tax cuts for the wealthy and climate-change denialism. Above all, today's Republicans are devoted to destroying Obama, echoing their sex-obsessed persecution of Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
In the long run, the implosion of one of our two major parties benefits no one. The American form of representative democracy works best with an effective governing party and a responsible opposition. If Republican voters nominate Romney, it would send a signal to John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell, as well as their Tea Party allies, that they're sick and tired of their relentless, self-serving obstructionism.
3. It would be bad for the Obama presidency. Despite my fears that even a fringe candidate could beat Obama if the already-ailing economy collapses, it is more likely that the president wouldn't have to break a sweat in dispatching Gingrich, Perry or Bachmann. And that wouldn't bode well for a second term, as Obama wouldn't earn a mandate so much as have one handed to him.
Given Romney's incessant pandering, I may be too optimistic in hoping that an Obama-Romney contest could play out as a serious conversation about our country's future. But a boy can dream, can't he?
Romney currently finds himself in an impossible position: he's widely described as the inevitable nominee, yet the Republican Party's right wing -- its dominant wing -- loathes him. This week the New Hampshire Union Leader endorsed Gingrich -- no surprise, but a complication for Romney given how crucial the Granite State is to his chances.
The prospect that the president may face an extreme, supposedly unelectable Republican may seem enticing to those hoping for a second Obama term. As always, you should be careful about what you wish for.
Follow Dan Kennedy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dankennedy_nu