Who will make weaker opponent for Obama: Mitt or Newt? Doesn’t matter if progressives don’t vote

January 25, 2012

Progressives, liberals and blue-dog Democrats face an interesting mental puzzle: Who do we want to win the Republican presidential nomination: Mitt Romney, who is seen as being able to attract more centrist and independent voters and therefore more likely to defeat Obama? Or Newt Gingrich, who is seen as less likely to defeat Obama but would be a disaster as president?

If we focus on the best possible “worst case” scenario for the country, we favor Mitt, because his track record suggests that he will be a far abler manager and administrator as president than the loosey-goosey Gingrich. But if we focus on the best chance of retaining Obama, who despite his faults is far more progressive, far more interested in the problems of the 99% and far less corrupt than either of the two likely Republican nominees, Newt seems on the surface to be the better choice as the assumption is that centrists will never vote for the corrupt and hypocritical Gingrich.

The flaw in the reasoning is the assumption that Newt would be easier to defeat than Mitt because fewer centrists will like him. Consider that rural-based evangelicals have never seemed to be able to warm up to Mitt, who represents the city-slicker as much as he represents free market values. They have decided to forgive Newt his transgressions, which Gingrich has rewritten into the rebirth narrative so dear to the religious right.  This group, comprising from 20-30% of the population, might sit on its hands in the general election for Romney but might vote in droves for Newt.

Meanwhile in his effort to pander to the far right, Romney cut ties with the Hispanic community by coming out against the Dream Act, which would give long-time illegal aliens with deep community roots the opportunity to go legal. While Newt has not stated a position on this pending legislation, he has expressed sympathy with the long-term illegal immigrant, which has not hurt him with the evangelicals and allowed him to build a bridge to centrists and social conservatives among Hispanic voters. That Newt is a converted Catholic and not a Mormon probably helps his standing somewhat with both evangelicals and Hispanics.

On the other hand, we can safely assume that Mitt Romney would be more able to raise money for the general election than Gingrich could, and many pundits, predictors and politicians put a lot of stock in how much money each candidate raises. Money doesn’t vote, people do. But money can influence votes and money can drive voters to polling places. Whoever the GOP candidate is, we can expect that Obama will raise more money, as much as $1.0 billion total according to a few estimates.

A variation on current speculation is whether the extended campaign for the nomination will hurt or help the Republicans.  It didn’t seem to hurt the Democrats in 2008, and in fact helped keep the party in the spotlight. But we were dealing with two candidates who were relatively scandal free. The Republican race has come down to the King of Republican Scandals against Mr. One-percent. Of course, it’s possible that by the time of the love fest that will be the Republican convention, the country will have grown tired of hearing about Mitt and Newt’s flaws, and will therefore shut their ears to Democratic negative campaigning in the fall.

At the end of the day, though, all the speculation in which progressives may engage about the current state of the presidential race leads to one action plan, and it’s always the same action plan for winning all elections:

  1. Support the more progressive candidate, which in this case will surely be Obama.
  2. Drive that candidate leftward with letters, emails and support of other candidates.
  3. Vote on Election Day.
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