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Republicans are now chewing over their party’s potential presidential nominee for 2012, and a dramatic division has become apparent between GOP insiders and the grass roots. But it’s not primarily a difference of ideology, though there is an element of that. Instead, the split centers on electability.
So far, three-quarters of the party’s grass roots has declined every opportunity to support former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. After each anti-Romney candidate has flopped, another has emerged, with Romney making little or no headway expanding his support.
Given this dynamic, it could be a while until the Republican rank and file decides to hold its collective nose and grudgingly support the former Bay State governor — if it ever does.
For the Republican grass roots, the current GOP race is about finding a consistent conservative who favors smaller government and lower taxes and believes that President Barack Obama and the national media represent the forces of darkness. For them, that is not Mitt Romney.
But most GOP insiders whom I talk with have a very different perspective on their party’s presidential race.
Many of them are quite conservative, and if you examine their issue positions — on taxes, spending, national security, energy and even many cultural issues — they aren’t much different from the grass roots’ positions.
It’s misleading to portray the insiders as a band of Rockefeller Republicans. All of them would be happy to vote for Ronald Reagan again, or even Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, were he in the GOP race. Romney certainly would not be their ideal candidate.
But these Republicans — many of them political strategists and operatives, lobbyists and party veterans — see the nomination as merely the first step in the fight to dethrone the defending champion, Obama. They regard Romney as by far the most likely Republican candidate, possibly the only potential nominee, who can beat the president next year.
Many officeholders, operatives and other insiders place a high value on electability, while most grass-roots activists either place a much lower value on it or, alternatively, choose to believe that their preferred candidates have as good a chance of beating Obama as Romney has.
The idea that Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) or Texas Gov. Rick Perry or Herman Cain or former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) would be as formidable against Obama as Romney would be is hard to support on the basis of current survey data. Romney does better against the president than do other active GOP candidates in almost every survey.