There's a weird but true story that Mitt Romney once strapped a dog carrier to the top of the his car and took his family, with the dog up top, on a 12-hour drive to visit his parents in Canada. This isn't the same thing as beating or starving the poor animal but it is odd, and I think it's fair to wonder if this might be a small glimpse into the real man behind the haircut.
Be that as it may, Romney currently is facing an obstacle more serious than weird stories in his quest to be nominated: his own record in office. The Wall Street Journal last Friday published an editorial slamming Romney's insistence on defending the health care plan in Massachusetts that was the cornerstone of his term as governor, while at the same time criticizing Obama's federal health care plan, which was largely based on the Massachusetts model. Romney reacted with a letter claiming the Journal editorial distorted the history of Romneycare, and that what was important was ending Obamacare and allowing each state to work out the problem as the citizens of that state see fit.
That last bit is a nod to the principle of federalism, and it's good that Romney recognizes that this is an important part of the argument against Obamacare. Part of the trouble with Romney continuing to defend his now-disastrous plan in Massachusetts is that it will give the Democrats a very large club in trying to destroy Romney's credibility when he attacks Obamacare, should he become the Republican nominee. The trouble Romney is currently facing on this issue from conservatives, though, is that Romneycare was a "big government" style solution to the health care issue, and I think the fear is that Romney is a technocratic, big solutions guy at heart. In the wake of the Tea Party movement and the conservative electoral victories of last November, the prospect of yet another "big government" Republican as the presidential nominee isn't going to go down well with a sizeable number of voters who wants to see Obama defeated, and the government downsized.
Meanwhile, another Republican seeking the nomination inserted a very large foot into his even larger mouth last Sunday on Meet The Press. When pressed on whether or not Paul Ryan's approach to Medicare reform might hurt Republicans with voters, Newt Gingrich described the reform plan as "right wing social engineering," a remark that was poorly received just about everywhere on the Republican side. This is an early but serious crisis in Gingrich's campaign, and he has spent the last week trying to repair the damage by speaking to conservative radio talk show hosts, among them Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt, and Mark Levin. From the way things look now, I think his campaign is in serious danger, and I see few signs that he'll be able to recover from this mistake.
I think that what we'll be seeing in the battle for the Republican nomination is a contest between the candidate that the Republican establishment decides is acceptable, versus some sort of "outsider" candidate with a mandate to go to Washington and turn things upside down. At the moment the establishment doesn't seem to be entirely happy with any of the candidates who have announced, and there is a casting about to convince acceptable candidates to enter the race, such as Mitch Daniels, Rick Perry, even Marco Rubio. Meanwhile, presumed outsider Sarah Palin appeared yesterday in an interview with Greta van Sustern, to me sounding very much like someone who has nearly made up her mind to run for office.
In presidential primaries, there is always a faction that seems to be working for an early and insurmountable lead by the candidate who is supported by the party leaders, under the theory that the party can then approach the general election with more time and unity. While that faction does sometimes prevail (as in the case of Bob Dole, for instance), it isn't remotely a guarantee of winning the final election. I doubt that any such effort is going to succeed in the race for the Republican nominee for 2012, but if the establishment somehow manages to get their candidate nominated in a way that makes Tea Party types and other conservatives feel shut out, I think there will be an electoral rebellion against the party establishment throughout the country that will make 2010 seem only the prelude.