Political Animal


January 16, 2012 4:15 PM Misguided boasts about a new ceiling

By Steve Benen

Republican consultant/pundit Mike Murphy got in an interesting dig this morning at the conventional wisdom surrounding Mitt Romney. In particular, Murphy noted a Fox News poll showing Romney leading the GOP pack with 40% support nationally.

“But wait, I’ve been hearing about Mitt’s ‘25% cap’ from media pundits for a year!”

At first blush, this seems compelling. Romney spent a year with Republican support stuck in the low-to-mid 20s, so it stands to reason that some of his supporters would gloat now that there’s one poll (and only one poll) showing the frontrunner reaching a new plateau — and the first digit is 4, not 2.

But let’s not look past some of the relevant details here. Pundits mocked Romney’s 25% ceiling for months because, well, he kept running into a 25% ceiling. The argument wasn’t that he’d be literally incapable of ever generating more support; the argument was that Romney would have broken past this ceiling months ago if he were a better, more appealing candidate.

Consider an interesting tidbit: in nearly every instance since 1959, by the October before the primaries, the Republican frontrunner enjoyed support of at least 41% of the party in national Gallup polls and then went on to win their party’s nomination. How many national Gallup polls showed Romney reaching 30% among Republicans at any point in 2011? Zero.

Sure, Romney is no longer Mr. 25%. Congratulations to him. The field is shrinking; he’s destroyed his main rivals in a weak field; and the cap is rising accordingly. For those of us who assumed Romney’s nomination was inevitable anyway, none of this is the least bit surprising. When the GOP field shrinks a little more, he’ll almost certainly get to 50%, which he should given that he’ll be the party’s presidential nominee.

But what pundits should keep in mind is this: the new ceiling isn’t the result of a surge in Romney support; it’s the result of Republican voters resigned to their fate after waiting in vain for someone better to come along. “Fine,” the party is saying. “I guess we’re stuck with that guy.”

And that is nothing to brag about.

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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  • lou on January 16, 2012 4:35 PM:

    And consider the clowns who were ahead of Romney in the polls several times in the campaign. Sooner or later the only game fish in the pool would show up on the stringer. And the money system would shake out to the default selection.

  • Danp on January 16, 2012 4:43 PM:

    If Romney works hard enough, he might get to 102% of delegates needed to win the nomination. Talk about soaring to new heights! Then again he many need a Rasmussen poll to get there.

  • c u n d gulag on January 16, 2012 4:57 PM:

    What is inarguable, is that IF/WHEN he wins the nomination, he'll have the full support of the 27% of the knuckle-dragging cave-person vote, as he pivots to take on President N*gger.

  • square1 on January 16, 2012 5:18 PM:

    the argument was that Romney would have broken past this ceiling months ago if he were a better, more appealing candidate.

    This was never a compelling argument. The GOP is generally composed of three factions. The (largely corporate) "establishment". The evangelicals. And the liberatrians.

    Roughly speaking, each comprise a third of the party. And, during the nomination campaign, each faction has had their preferred candidates.

    Establishment: Romney, Huntsman (dark horse: Christie)

    Evangelicals: Santorum, Perry, Bachmann (dark horse: Huckabee)

    Randian/Libertarians: Paul, Johnson (very dark horse: Ayn Rand)

    Gingrich is a force unto himself since he is basically a pseudo-establishment con man masquerading as a social conservative to pick up the evangelical vote.

    Now, until the primaries are resolved, it was never reasonable to expect ANY candidate from ANY faction to get more than roughly 1/3 of the vote.

    The only important question is whether Romney (or any other potential nominee) could get GOP voters to rally around him in the event that he secured the nomination. And, frankly, I think the jury is still out on that score. We still don't know whether evangelicals and libertarian/Randians will vote for Romney with enthusiasm because their candidates are still in it.

  • massappeal on January 16, 2012 5:34 PM:

    By contrast, recall the Democratic primary contest four years ago. There was a "top tier" of Clinton, Edwards and Obama. Based on what was known about them at the time, most Democratic voters considered all three of them to be solid candidates. (There were more questions about Obama, because of his relative youth and newness to the national stage, than about anyone else.)

    Then there was a "second tier" of Biden, Dodd and Richardson. Individual voters had differing views about them, but there was little doubt that all were qualified (to the extent that there are qualifications for the the job) to be the party's nominee should they somehow emerge with the most delegates.

    As Dave Wiegel noted on Slate, and as Rachel Maddow emphasized on her TV show, so far the 2012 Republican race is basically a rerun of the 2008 race---only with less serious candidates and less enthusiasm among Republican voters.

  • dalloway on January 16, 2012 5:46 PM:

    New number or not, he'll always be Mr. One Per Cent to me.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on January 16, 2012 6:24 PM:

    Ok Mr. Sour Grapes Benen...

    Mitt Romney has plenty of polling data to brag about!

    According to my own unscientific survey/poll, our next president Romney has the following levels of support:
    - winner of the Iowa caucuses
    - winner of the New Hampshire primary
    - winner of the Murdock primary
    - more than 70% support among the Corporately Owned Media
    - more than 80% support among billionaires
    - more than 75% support from his fellow middle class quarter-billionaires

  • DAY on January 16, 2012 7:15 PM:

    Bruce Willis was the "Last Man Standing"
    But, he was still Bruce Willis. . .

  • square1 on January 16, 2012 7:21 PM:

    @massappeal: The difference between the GOP and the Democratic parties is that, the fracture lines in the Democratic Party are much less overt.

    Unlike the GOP, with the three clear factions, the Democratic Party basically has two primary factions: (1) A DLC/Third-Way/Corporatist faction that can basically be described as socially-liberal Reagan Democrats. (2) And a traditional New Deal/Great Society faction.

    Unlike the GOP candidates, which tend to be aligned with their respective factions, virtually all of the Democratic candidates in 2008 straddled the two factions.

    The only real distinguishable candidate was John Edwards, but even he was undermined by his conservative voting record in the Senate.

    Even though the primary was somewhat divisive, it was not divisive ideologically. There was no strong reason to believe that either Hillary or Obama was going to be either more or less liberal or conservative than the other. Nor did the second tier of candidates offer a stark contrast: Biden's and Dodd's banking ties, and Richardson's energy company ties, made their more liberal rhetoric suspect.

    IOW, the ideological differences between Obama, Clinton, Edwards, Dodd, Richardson, and Biden were far, far narrower than between the present GOP candidates.

  • Redshift on January 17, 2012 10:05 PM:

    square1: Now, until the primaries are resolved, it was never reasonable to expect ANY candidate from ANY faction to get more than roughly 1/3 of the vote.

    If that were the case, why is it that as Steve pointed out, that this has almost never happened before?

    To put it in terms of your analysis, it seems that in most Republican primaries, there's a candidate who can win a significant share of more than one of the factions, and that seems to correspond to Steve's "a better, more appealing candidate."