On MSNBC Wednesday morning, "Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough had one of those refreshingly direct moments where he cut through all the political blather with a blunt assessment of what's really going on in the presidential race. Mr. Scarborough was talking about Rick Santorum's chances of being the nominee in 2016, when panelist Mark Halperin interjected that Mitt Romney might win in the fall (thereby taking 2016 out of the equation for Republicans). At that point, Scarborough irritatedly cut him off:
“Nobody thinks Romney’s going to win [the general election]. Let’s just be honest. Can we just say this for everybody at home? The Republican establishment – I have yet to meet a single person from the Republican establishment who thinks Mitt Romney’s going to win the general election this year. They won’t say it on TV, because they’ve got to go on TV, and they don’t want people writing them nasty e-mails. I obviously don’t care. But I have yet to meet anybody in the Republican establishment that worked for George W. Bush, that works in the Republican Congress, that worked for Ronald Reagan that thinks Mitt Romney’s going to win the general election.”
This basically corresponds with Decoder's own conversations with various Republican insiders. There are many who say they think President Obama is vulnerable – but there are far fewer who, when speaking off the record, say they believe Mr. Romney is well positioned to take advantage of that vulnerability. In a word, many Republicans smell a loser.
Yes, Romney is widely seen as the most "electable" candidate among Republican primary voters, and has been throughout this campaign. In Tuesday's Wisconsin primary, 38 percent of voters said that beating Mr. Obama was their top priority, and 68 percent of those voters chose Romney. But that doesn't mean they're confident Romney will beat Obama – just that they think he has a better shot at it than the other GOP candidates on the ballot.
In fact, when pollsters ask voters who they think is going to win in the fall (as opposed to who they want to win), Obama wins pretty handily. A recent Pew survey found that 59 percent of voters believe Obama would beat Romney in the general election, including 30 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.
And it is that underlying sense – that, barring some unexpected turn of events such as a double-dip recession, Romney is probably going to lose in the fall – that has really been weighing down Romney's candidacy. The reluctance on the part of many Republicans to back him until recently, and the lack of enthusiasm shown by many when they do get on board, probably have less to do with Romney's positions on the issues and whether he's a true conservative or not, than with this widespread sense that he is likely to lose to Obama.
That's why Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida followed his endorsement of Romney by telling The Daily Caller: "There are a lot of other people out there that some of us wish had run for president – but they didn't." That's why former Gov. George Pataki (R) of New York said, after endorsing him: "Mitt is not a perfect candidate," adding, "it's hard for blue-collar families like mine to identify with him. It's hard for economic conservatives to identify with him." (In fact, Mr. Pataki actually won an NCAA-style bracket put on by Yahoo News for "most tepid Romney endorsement.")
Some of them are trying. But, as Scarborough noted on Wednesday, in their heart of hearts, many Republicans – right now, at least – really aren't anticipating victory, which makes that enthusiasm a lot harder to muster.
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