|Mitt Romney and his wife Ann.|
Photo: Reuters / Brian Snyder
Voter turnout has been inconsistent from state to state, and in many primary races, public participation has reflected more on the strength of the candidates' ground organizations than on a genuine groundswell of enthusiasm for ideas. For GOP voters, the primary season appears to feel rote and mechanical, an unsatisfying exercise in futility and eventuality, all of which bodes poorly for Republican hopes in the Fall.
Why so glum? Three fundamental elements underly the absence of enthusiasm in Republican voters, two of which have been much discussed and one of which is true, but less remarked upon to date. We all know the main causes of GOP apathy: (1) Mitt Romney (2) No viable alternative to Mitt Romney. The other factor which is worth at least a casual mention at this point is (3) No new ideas to rally around. Even Mitt could be popular if he had something interesting to add to our national dialogue.
Despite the general lack of excitement for the frontrunner (see issue #1 above), Mitt Romney heads into Super Tuesday riding high on an impressive string of five consecutive victories, which include Maine, Michigan, Arizona, Wyoming, and Washington (a direct result of issue #2 above). Romney still has cash, he still has a solid campaign organization, and he still has a sizable delegate lead over the rest of the field. After Super Tuesday, all of those things will still be true, and the unmotivated GOP population knows it.
Even those who have been able to get energized around the anti-Romney candidates find themselves frustrated heading into Super Tuesday, as Santorum and Gingrich will not appear on the all-important Virginia ballot (they lacked the ground game last Fall needed to meet the state's stringent ballot requirements). Ron Paul, whose supporters tend to be more resilient regardless of election results, will place second behind Romney in Virginia, but is likely to find himself a distant third or fourth place finish in most other Super Tuesday contests.
It boils down to this for GOP voters: Romney will win. He won't win everything, he won't even win convincingly, but he will win enough.
Since the start of the primary race last year, the entire GOP field has put forth only two competing visions. Republican voters have been given the choice between wacky, wrong-headed, and ultimately unacceptable ideas (like those of Perry, Bachmann, Cain, Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul) and the philosophy of Mitt Romney, which is essentially composed of the singular notion that he is not Barack Obama. Americans will eventually unite together against something, but they would much prefer to stand together for something, which sadly is not a choice GOP voters been given this time around.
When one faces a dilemma wherein he is forced to settle for the lesser of all evils, he ultimately does so - but reluctantly and without the gusto needed to win presidential elections. The Republican electorate has been severely unmotivated by the string of challengers whose primary selling point is that they are not-Romney, and barring an unexpected economic relapse, the general public will be equally unmotivated in the Fall to vote for the GOP nominee just because he is not-Obama.