As Super Tuesday dawns, national opinion polls are telling a clear story. Despite a residual ennui about the choices and anxiety about November, Republican voters are coalescing around Mitt Romney as their standard bearer for the fall.
The book on Romney has been that a large part of the GOP electorate didn’t like him. He was the candidate with a glass ceiling, couldn’t get over 30 percent in the polls. No one seemed to notice that beneath the glass ceiling was a concrete floor. He never fell below 15 percent in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. Other candidate rocketed toward the heights. Romney just moved along his steady way, never soaring but never plummeting either as so many king or queen for a day opponents did.
But as of this morning, RCP shows the former Massachusetts governor at 38.7 percent and moving up. His closest rival – Rick Santorum – scores 28 percent and is in an all-but-vertical drop. Tonight’s results may serve up surprises. But without some kind of game changing moment, Mr. Romney has clearly broken through that invisible barrier and could well register support in national polls from a majority of GOP voters within a few days.
You would think the party would be celebrating. But across the nation, I hear more resignation than jubilation. “I feel zero enthusiasm for him – just zero,” a California GOP conservative emailed the other day. “If I were Barack Obama I’d be loving life by now,” a prominent Midwestern Republican told me on a recent evening.
And yet, as The Washington Times reported this morning, not only does Romney look as if he is on his way to besting the field, no one has a better idea, either. That’s according to polling The Times commissioned. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, current New Jersey governor Chris Christie – no matter what white knight The Times polled him against, Romney came out ahead. Maybe not streaks ahead, but he won just the same.
Everyone sighs for the return of Reagan. Again this morning, in the Wall Street Journal, Bill McGurn points out that at this stage of the 1980 race, Reagan wasn’t REAGAN. He was polling behind Carter. Gerald Ford was loudly sending quiet signals that he was ready to answer the party’s call. Reagan became REAGAN by steadily pursuing his goals, winning the presidency and achieving so much in it.
Now, I was a volunteer in the 1980 Reagan campaign. When the governor lost Iowa, I was among those who carpooled from New York City, where I was licking stamps and answering phone after work and on weekends, to New Hampshire where, as I recall, I licked stamps and answered phones. I also trudged house to house in the snow, slept wrapped in blankets on floors and joined fellow volunteers riding in busses to a certain rally. I was sitting in the bleachers, half way up, maybe higher, and directly to Mr. Reagan’s right when he sternly snapped, “I paid for this microphone” and pretty much won the primary on the spot. That was one brilliant night on his way to becoming REAGAN.
We will see if Romney has any such moments. I doubt he will, but then if he has little of the former president’s showmanship, he does have comparable self-discipline. His campaign has been nothing if not a display of planning, persistence and self-control. Watching Mr. Reagan up close as one of his White House speechwriters, I concluded that more than brilliance, far more, self-discipline was the essential quality of a president. And whatever else you think of him, Romney has that quality in depth – more by far than any of the parade of frontrunners who have come and gone these last many months.
The GOP’s gloom isn’t just about an ineffable blah that seems to fill Republican voters when they contemplate the state of campaign play. It is also that the president’s fortunes are rising. The Obama machine is clearly well funded (on its way to raising a billion dollars directly and through an independent superpac, we hear about – and probably much more in union efforts and the like we don’t hear about). There are reports that the campaign has 2000 employees devoted to online and social media. Think of that: 2000 Tweeters.
And yet, if the president is formidable, our side is, too. Haven’t all the months of debating and contesting told us that? So to those who so loudly sigh, here is a stern little lecture. Think of me manager Tom Hanks dressing down tearful Geena Davis in A League of Their Own. “Sighing? Sighing? There’s no sighing in politics. Get out there and play ball.”