Why conservative critics are now backing Mitt Romney

Conservative Republican critics of Mitt Romney are now lining up behind him, in part because the bruising primary race is hurting the GOP in the eyes of voters, say polls.

REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign stop in Youngstown, Ohio March 5, 2012.

Heading into Super Tuesday, perhaps the biggest thing Mitt Romney has going for him is this: Republicans seem ready for this thing to be over. 

This was not the case going into previous primary contests. Indeed, more than any other factor, the driving force behind Rick Santorum’s wins in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, and Newt Gingrich’s win in South Carolina, seemed to be that voters wanted the process to go on. They weren’t enamored of Romney, they liked the idea of backing an underdog, and they wanted to shake up the race.

That could still happen, of course - but this time, we don’t think it will. 

Remember Sarah Palin urging voters to “keep this vetting process going, keep the debate going” by voting for Newt? Well, it’s been a while since Palin – or any other high-profile GOP figure - has offered that message.

Instead, as the New York Times reports, more and more prominent elected officials, like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia and Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma are now lining up behind Romney.

Perhaps even more notable, a growing consensus seems to be emerging among conservative opinion-shapers in the media – including many who have not been friendly toward Romney – that the party should essentially resign itself to his nomination and move forward. Several have done this even while writing that a Romney candidacy may be doomed to defeat.

To wit, conservative columnist George Will – one of Romney’s toughest critics on the right - drew attention last week for a piece that argued Republicans should turn their attention away from the presidential contest altogether, and focus instead on retaining the House and winning the Senate.

The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol - another Romney critic, who has repeatedly called for a new candidate to get into the race - responded by arguing the White House was too important to just write off, and he indicated that his own reluctance to get behind Romney early on would not prevent him from backing the former Massachusetts governor in the future:

“If some of us have resisted Romney inevitability, or an early Romney coronation, it’s because we don’t think that Romney’s nomination—or at least his easy and early nomination—would increase Republican chances of winning the presidency. Others differ on these questions. But whatever differences conservatives have in March about candidates, strategy and tactics should not affect our determination in the fall, when there is a Republican nominee, to turn our energies to defeating President Obama.”

Likewise, in a piece aptly titled “Stop the Madness and Just Give Us Mitt,” the New York Post’s John Podhoretz writes that Super Tuesday offers “the possibility of something sublime at long last: escape.”

The reason for all this coalescing: As MSNBC’s First Read pointed out Monday morning, there’s growing evidence that the nomination fight is becoming seriously damaging to the Republican brand. According to a new NBC/ Wall Street Journal poll: 

“Four in 10 of all adults say the Republican nominating process has given them a less favorable impression of the GOP, versus just 12% with a more favorable opinion. Additionally, asked to describe the nominating battle in a word or phrase, 69% of respondents (including 63% of independents and even 56% of Republicans) answered with a negative comment.” 

Romney’s favorable/unfavorable ratings (28/39 percent) are now worse than every other recent candidate who has gone on to win their party’s nomination - including John McCain, John Kerry, George W. Bush, and Bob Dole. The sole exception is Bill Clinton, whose favorable/unfavorable ratings at this point in 1992 stood at 32/43 percent.

The sooner Romney can wrap the fight up and start repairing his image, Republicans seem to be thinking, the better. If he wins big tomorrow, he may be able to do just that.

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