the national interest

The Newt-Mitt Electability Gap Shrinks

Republican presidential hopefuls, Mitt Romney (L) and Newt Gingrich, take the stage for the NBC News, Tampa Bay Times, National Journal Republican Presidential Candidates Debate at the University of South Florida, January 23, 2012, Tampa, Florida. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Shoot me now Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

The main reason the Republican Establishment overwhelmingly favors Mitt Romney over Newt Gingrich is that Romney stands a better chance of beating Barack Obama. The catch is that, as the campaign goes on, this seems to be growing less true.

Today’s ABC/Washington Post poll shows Romney’s favorable-unfavorable rating among the broader public collapsing to almost Newt-esque levels. He now stands at 31-49, closing in fast on Gingrich’s abysmal 29-51. (Barack Obama bumped up to 53-43.) Now, favorable ratings are kind of tricky – they bounce around a lot and differ more from poll to poll than other topics, like job approval. Also, Romney’s numbers are artificially depressed by his being in a contentious primary. Many Republicans who are expressing negative views of him right now will come around when he’s the nominee. (This holds true of Gingrich, too.) Romney only has a 58-32 favorability rating among Republicans, a figure that will grow. Still, he stands at a putrid 23-51 among independents. He’s not popular.

There is also the fact that Obama has designed his entire campaign as a counterposition to Romney. The latest personalized touch, sent with love from Chicago to Boston, is the administration’s announcement that Debbie Bosanek will sit with First Lady Michelle Obama during tonight’s State of the Union Address.

Who is Debbie Bosanek? She is Warren Buffett’s secretary. Buffett, of course, has lamented the fact that the tax code enables him to pay a lower rate on his earnings than his secretary pays. Obama proposes to change that.

Romney opposes that change. What’s more, he personally benefits from precisely the state of affairs decried by Buffett (and Obama.) And by an incredibly fortunate coincidence of timing — fortunate for Obama, that is — Romney has released two years’ worth of tax data today, offering fresh evidence that his tax rate is indeed lower than that of many, though not all or even most, Americans of far more modest means. Bosanek will be recognized tonight either for having performed greats feats of clerical heroism or, more likely, as a symbol of the middle-class American disadvantaged by policies Romney both benefits from and wants to preserve.

Now, it’s not like it would be hard for Obama to switch gears and design a campaign contrasting himself with Gingrich. The Obama campaign would almost certainly still prefer to run against Gingrich. But the electability gap between the two leading contenders is dwindling. No wonder more and more conservatives are frantically casting about for a new candidate to jump in and save the day.

The Newt-Mitt Electability Gap Shrinks