Political Animal


October 11, 2011 10:30 AM The weakest of frontrunners

By Steve Benen

Gallup released a poll yesterday offering a sense of where the race for the Republican presidential nomination currently stands, at least at the national level. The angle that drew the most attention was Herman Cain’s “surge,” but that’s not what stood out for me. Here’s where the field currently stands:

1. Mitt Romney: 20% (down 4 points from September)
2. Herman Cain: 18% (up 13 points)
3. Rick Perry: 13% (down 16 points)
4. Ron Paul: 8% (down 5 points)
5. Newt Gingrich: 7% (up two points)
6. Michele Bachmann: 5% (no change)
7. Rick Santorum: 3% (up one point)
8. Jon Huntsman: 2% (up one point)

The number of Republican and Republican-leaning voters who are undecided, meanwhile, has doubled over the last month to 20%, leaving it, in effect, tied for first.

Media coverage of this poll generally points to Cain’s numbers, and it’s clear the former pizza company executive is in the midst of a boomlet. Of course, it’s not the first time — back in June, Cain was also running second in a national Gallup and was one of only two candidates in double digits. Soon after, Cain faltered badly.

What seems more interesting, however, is just how weak a frontrunner Mitt Romney really is. Even as Rick Perry’s support collapses, and even when the rest of the GOP field is largely ridiculous, the former Massachusetts governor is still stuck with 20% — down a few points from a month earlier. He’s reclaimed the lead, but he backed into it.

As the Gallup report noted, in nearly every instance since 1959, by this point in the race, the Republican frontrunner enjoyed support of at least 41% before going on to win the party’s nomination. Romney hasn’t even been able to reach 30% in any Gallup poll this year.

How weak a frontrunner is Romney? Tim Pawlenty admitted yesterday he regrets dropping out — and he’s one of Romney’s highest-profile supporters. Hell, Pawlenty’s the national co-chair of the Romney campaign, and now he wishes he were still running against Romney,

Jon Chait recently noted, “I don’t see how Republicans could be making this any more plain. They do not want to nominate Mitt Romney.”

To be sure, they’re likely to nominate him anyway, because there’s no one else worthy of the nod. But when was the last time the Republican Party went into a general election with a nominee so much of the party simply didn’t like?

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Greg Worley on October 11, 2011 10:33 AM:

    Which means that most of the Republican energy will go into the state-level races, including senate and house. Are the Dems ready to do anything to counter this?

  • DAY on October 11, 2011 10:37 AM:

    Romney will be the candidate, because John McCain ain't running this time.

  • Marko on October 11, 2011 10:38 AM:

    Tim Pawlenty admitted yesterday he regrets dropping out

    "Oh, snap!" - Sarah Palin

  • berttheclock on October 11, 2011 10:39 AM:

    Damn - Where, oh where, is Alf Landon when you need him?

  • SteveT on October 11, 2011 10:52 AM:

    Jon Chait recently noted, "I don't see how Republicans could be making this any more plain. They do not want to nominate Mitt Romney."

    It could be more plain if Gallup or other pollsters turned away from tracking the meaningless day-to-day horserace and asked meaningful questions, like which of the Republican candidates Republican voters would not vote for in the general election.

  • Rochester on October 11, 2011 10:57 AM:

    It seems the country hasn't forgotten how the Bush administration was a complete fail. In shooting for an imperial presidency and a generational approach to political party power, they shot themselves in the foot.

    Couldn't happen to a more deserving group.

  • zeitgeist on October 11, 2011 10:57 AM:

    and yet, as of the last time I saw polling on the issue (about a month ago) the Republicans still had an enthusiasm advantage over the Dems. Apparently our 'frontrunner' is also backing into that designation. Or Democrats are doing whatever it takes to make a winnable election closer than it needs to be (per usual practice).

  • Rick B on October 11, 2011 11:02 AM:

    This is really a repeat of the 2008 Republican race, but with significantly worse candidates.

    How many Republicans really wanted McCain? He was their sort of second or third choice for GOP primary voters after their first choices each self-destructed. McCain got the nomination because he was their least disliked candidate and because he sort of fit into the GOP category of "next up."

    But the radical social right couldn't stomach McCain and weren't going to vote at all, so he had to bring Sarah Palin down from the freezer to placate them.

    This year is much worse. The Republican Party is splintering.

    Romney is liked even less than McCain was and the radical christianists are simply not going to vote for a Mormon, especially not flip-flopper sometime-liberal Romney. If there is anyone in the GOP competent to pull the GOP together this election they aren't going to run as a sacrificial candidate in 2012 against an incumbent Democrat. Everyone who might pull some of the GOP together is young enough to wait for 2016 and doesn't want to waste their abilities on 2012.

    That's what I read into the poll up above, anyway.

  • calling all toasters on October 11, 2011 11:06 AM:

    when was the last time the Republican Party went into a general election with a nominee so much of the party simply didnít like?


  • PTate in MN on October 11, 2011 11:08 AM:

    2012, what a mess of a year. Yes, the Republicans are likely to have a candidate that many in the party don't much like. But ditto for the Democrats. The fact that both parties are going to field candidates who disappoint their rank & file says volumes about the elite being out of touch with the concerns of citizens.

  • Stevio on October 11, 2011 11:09 AM:

    It will be Romney who will then pull a McCain-like move and pick Joe the Plumber for his VP candidate. Unlike PALINaroundwithterrorists, he'll know he can't see Russia from his home.

    That's because he doesn't know what Russia is...

  • Upper West on October 11, 2011 11:14 AM:

    Watch out for Newt.

    I would put money on Newt at 8-1 or maybe lower odds right now.

    He's gone up to 7%. He doesn't have Romney's "liberal" and Mormon detractions. Unlike Perry, he is "heartless" toward immigrants and potential cancer victims. Unlike Cain, he is white. Unlike Bachmann, he is not batshit crazy. Unlike Santorum, his name doesn't lead to a colorful google search recovery. Unlike Huntsman ... (no need really). Unlike Ron Paul, he likes bombing other countries.

  • Rochester on October 11, 2011 11:14 AM:

    Romney will be their John Kerry.


  • berttheclock on October 11, 2011 11:17 AM:

    "from his home"

    Well, that depends where Joe parks his trailer, these days. If, perchance, he parks it in Shelby County, Ohio, then, he might be able to see Russia (pronounced Roo-she), Ohio.

  • square1 on October 11, 2011 11:33 AM:

    It isn't news that Romney isn't beloved by the party base.

    But what bothers me is Benen's snarky tone, as if Romney's lack of party love is a significant liability. It isn't.

    Anyone who the GOP base swooned over would be a non-starter in a general election. The smartest thing for the GOP to do right now is to run a palatable alternative to a President with low job approval numbers and a stalled economy.

    If the GOP can get the base to stomach a candidate that (rightly or wrongly) doesn't scare the pants off of disenchanted Democrats and independents then they likely win.

  • Danp on October 11, 2011 11:34 AM:

    The Republicans may be "more energized", but let's be honest, they have no ideas, no solutions to anything, and no principles. They just want a rock star. There's just no Lemmy in the group, though Ron Paul is a bit like Iggy Pop.

  • QuestionEverything on October 11, 2011 11:43 AM:

    My mother is right wing and watches the Fox network like it has any credibility (unfortunately). She recently went to a Cain book signing and was very impressed. He seemed to say all the right things to her.

    I'm not saying she's representative of most Republicans but I'm sensing something with Cain and her support for him this early and what she thinks is important.

    I mentioned how he said he would never put a muslim in his administration and she made excuses for him saying that he now says that he was referring to 'extremist muslims.' I've given up on her.

    I think he and Perry (my thinking because he says more stupid s%*^ than any of them and that's what GOP'ers love-see Palin) are really the two that I fear will likely get the nod. Don't underestimate the power of stupid (Perry) or the real possibility of Cain pulling it off.

    My mother also seems to think Cain's business experience is something that would help this country. Keep an eye on him.

  • square1 on October 11, 2011 11:48 AM:

    I think the Kerry comparison is fairly apt.

    If Kerry was so damn appealing, you would never have seen the support for Howard Dean or Wes Clark. Like Romney, nobody knew what Kerry was really all about.

    A lot of people rationalized the Kerry nomination after it suddenly became inevitable. But when Dean's campaign was taking off over a similar period, Kerry looked pathetic.

  • Joe Friday on October 11, 2011 12:10 PM:

    "How weak a frontrunner is Romney? Tim Pawlenty admitted yesterday he regrets dropping out - and he's one of Romney's highest-profile supporters. Hell, Pawlenty's the national co-chair of the Romney campaign, and now he wishes he were still running against Romney,"


  • liam foote on October 11, 2011 12:15 PM:

    To paraphrase a famous prosecutor assessing grand jury tendencies, a large number of Americans would vote for a ham sandwich before casting a vote for Mr. Obama. That adamant population combined with a decent number of independents would give the 2012 election to the GOP. It seems to me that the person who could accomplish this would be Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana).

    I'm dedicated to Mr. Obama and hope that he prevails in 2012. If the Dems can regain control of the House we could rid ourselves of childish obstruction and actually see some progress during the second term. If he cannot win in 2012, though, I would like to see Sen. Lugar.

    He is Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, the longest serving member of Congress, former ONI officer, moderate enough to about to be challenged in a GOP primary by the wingnuts, and someone who would give the GOP a shot at several crucial swing states in the Midwest.

    The fact that his nomination by the GOP would provide me with a small fortune on InTrade has not been considered in my endorsement.

  • Mitch on October 11, 2011 2:00 PM:

    I have a very hard time seeing any of the current Repug candidates winning the General. Hell, they barely have any support from their own base. The real battle next year is not going to be for the Presidency; it will be for Congress.

    Dems need to be prepared to fight that battle. I think the GOP is betting that they can win enough of Congress to keep the government from doing anything for the next four years. They want to continue driving this country into the ground, so that in 2016 they can win everything.

    Remember how Mitch McConnell said his #1 goal was defeating Obama? Well the GOP's #1 goal is defeating the Democratic Party and gaining a permanent majority. They do not care about hurting the country as long as they achieve theat goal.

    They thought they had it after 2000, but their overreach and bad behavior took it from them, first in 2006, then in 2008. This time, I think, they are playing for keeps.

  • Death Panel Truck on October 11, 2011 3:43 PM:

    But when was the last time the Republican Party went into a general election with a nominee so much of the party simply didnít like?

    Umm...2008. Republicans didn't like McCain, but they despised the thought of a black man in the White House

  • flubber on October 11, 2011 7:29 PM:

    Bob Dole in 1996?

  • yellowdog on October 12, 2011 12:41 AM:

    Bush in 1988, with the curse of the Vice Presidency, but with the good fortune to be running against Dukakis and, to some degree, Jesse Jackson.

    Nobody really ever liked Richard Nixon either, but they thought he could win.

    As for Lugar (@liam foote on October 11, 2011 12:15 PM), his principal sin in GOP circles was working with Obama and Kerry to get ratification of the New Start Treaty with Russia. The very idea! In the process of overcoming GOP obstruction, Senator Lugar spake ill of one other Republican in particular--the presumptive GOP nominee, Mitt Romney. Lugar was quite alarmed at Romney's woeful lack of knowledge about nuclear issues and foreign policy. I doubt Senator Lugar has changed his mind about Romney's lack of global stature. Nothing in Romney's performance since then would have given him any reason to reconsider his assessment.