Today, on Fox News Sunday, Mitt Romney complained about the “long and blistering” primary that created an “unfavorable impression” of him. This outbreak of narcissism and self-pity has a chance to distort our perception of what actually happened during the Republican primary season. So let us recap:
1. Romney was the only candidate who combined strong fundraising, familiarity with federal-level issues, message discipline, and debate preparation (this is all to Romney’s credit.) He also had by far the most institutional support within the Republican party. To put it another way, Romney faced a much weaker primary opposition in 2012 than Barack Obama faced in 2008. Obama seems to have done okay. The reason why the primary campaign was so “long” despite the weakness and ineptitude of Romney’s opposition, was that primary voters recognized Romney’s complete lack of principle and desperately turned to any alternative no matter how unlikely.
2. And about “blistering.” Maybe Romney should be asking Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum about the ads that Romney and the Romney-aligned super-PACs ran against Romney’s opposition. Romney and friends ran multiples of the negative ads that were run by any one of his opponents.
3. And more on “blistering.” Romney’s opponents not only had less money with which to attack him, the weird dynamics of the Republican primary process meant that Romney’s primary opponents usually faced more “blistering” debates than Romney. You would think that Romney, as the frontrunner, would be the focus of attacks from the field. That isn’t how it worked out. Whenever one of Romney’s opponents emerged as the main alternative to Romney, some of the other non-Romneys would gang up on the leading anti-Romney in the hopes that one of them would emerge as the new Romney alternative. When Pawlenty looked like the more conservative alternative to Pawlenty, Michelle Bachmann would attack him in the primaries. When Rick Perry surged in the polls, Romney launched “blistering” and effective attacks against Perry in the debates. Romney was also helped by Michelle Bachmann and Ron Paul (and to a lesser extent Rick Santorum) who focused their attacks on Perry rather than Romney. Herman Cain collapsed more from press scrutiny than anything else, but when Gingrich surged for the first time (before Iowa), Bachmann and Ron Paul attacked Gingrich in the debates more than Romney. Bachmann didn’t win any delegates, but she played an important role in the pre-Iowa debates as Romney’s goon.
Give Romney credit. When Gingrich surged for a second time between South Carolina and Florida, Romney took apart Gingrich in debate without any real help from the other candidates. But when Santorum emerged and the final challenger, you had Ron Paul focusing most of his attacks on Rick Santorum in the last presidential debate.