We were talking about Mitt Romney at lunch yesterday and it seems to me that he represents a real problem for the Republican establishment. The base isn’t thrilled about him, but he’s so obviously the best candidate. Here’s what I think the Republican dilemma is. There are large segments of the American public who consistently vote Democrat who would be more at home with the Republicans–church-going Hispanics and Blacks, especially rural church-going Hispanics and Blacks–except that the Republicans have been such obvious odious choads to Hispanics and Blacks that they can’t gain a foothold in those communities. Mormons are, speaking broadly, an enormous and growing conservative base. They vote and vote Republican.
If the Republicans run Mitt Romney and Republicans don’t vote for him, it’s not just a matter of them losing their best shot against Obama. They risk losing Mormons. If Mormons feel that they can’t run for national office as Republicans because the Republican base objects to their religion, that’s going to be yet another growing segment of obviously conservative voters who can’t be comfortable in the Republican party.
And I think that’s part of the panic on the part of the Republican Party. If we just looked at the Republican candidates objectively–Romney would be the obvious choice. But can they afford to run Romney now and risk that his loss will alienate Mormons? Or do they ask him to wait four years and see how much attitudes have changed by then?
I also think the Beth Harwell problem is interesting. I mean, it makes sense to me that someone is polling to see how she’d run against Cooper. Harwell’s bright, she appeals to urban conservatives, and she holds the leadership of the State House. Of course she looks destined for bigger things. Yes, she was just elected Speaker of the House, but that’s the problem (and also why I’d bet $10 that the national GOP is behind the polling). Harwell should have a long political career ahead of her. I’m not sure she could beat Cooper now, but she definitely will NOT be able to beat Cooper if she becomes too closely associated with the anti-gay, anti-urban, anti-First-Amendment, pro-woo-hoo-we’re-idiots agenda of Tennessee Republicans. And as the leader of the House, she’s a really visible face to their movement.
So, the problem the GOP has is figuring out how long she can sit as Speaker and not become tainted beyond electability when they need her for bigger and better things.
The interesting thing about them polling to run her against Cooper now is that it indicates that the GOP believes that window is quite small.