Should Mitt Romney be the nominee of the Republican party for president in 2012? Perhaps. Should voters support him because he’s the “inevitable” nominee? No.
For one thing, his nomination is evitable — perhaps all too evitable. For another, we are a proud, self-governing people. We’re sometimes even an obstreperous bunch — and a good thing it is for the cause of liberty. We often balk at yielding meekly to claims of inevitability. Here in America, we the people rule by electing. We don’t bow to those anointed by pundits.
And Republicans in particular will be especially wary of proclamations of inevitability that come from media who do not have conservatives’ best interests at heart. Conservatives will resist declarations from a political class who have an interest in diminishing their range of choice. And wouldn’t the GOP nominee — whether Mitt Romney or someone else — end up a stronger candidate if he doesn’t coast to a supposedly inevitable nomination, but has to earn it?
But really, you might ask — isn’t Romney inevitable? And the answer is, really, no.
Fox News has polled likely GOP primary voters six times in the past five months. The highest Mitt Romney has trended is 26 percent — not a tidal wave of irresistibly rising acclamation.
Nor has Romney always been in the lead. In three of the four most recent polls, he’s trailed another candidate. The good news for Romney is that it’s been a different person each time. If Newt Gingrich, who now edges Romney out at 23 percent, follows in the path of Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann, then Romney may well be the last man standing.
But that’s a big if. Gingrich may not follow the Bachmann-Perry-Cain trajectory of rapid rise and rapid fall. He is a far more experienced national politician than they. He’s a familiar figure. Voters who have warmed to Gingrich in the past few months could still have second thoughts, and his rise may stall and reverse.
So far, as various candidates shed supporters, those voters have looked for someone to go to other than Romney. One could almost say they’re going out of their way not to go to Romney. That could well change, of course. Romney will have the resources and the standing to make his case forcefully to these voters. And Romney defeats President Barack Obama in the latest Fox poll, 44-42, while Gingrich trails, 46-41.
That will be an important point in Romney’s favor among GOP primary voters eager to defeat the president. But will he prevail? Who knows? We don’t think the inevitable answer is yes.
William Kristol is the editor of The Weekly Standard, where this article appeared.