So goodbye for now, Rick Santorum. And hello, general election: we now know, barring a miracle beyond even the wild imaginings of Newt Gingrich, that November’s presidential contest will be between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.
The uninitiated, European view is simple – Mitt doesn’t stand a chance. Obama is a global superstar, a genuinely inspiring campaigner, a man who has turned the economy round, introduced progressive healthcare reforms, and proved his Commander in Chief credentials by killing Bin Laden. By contrast, Romney is a wooden, uncharismatic robo-politician with a weak record and a history of flip-flopping, who flaunts his elitist wealth and has been dragged to the unelectable right by a bitter primary contest. In short, there is little to recommend him but his Presidential hair.
This view is wrong. For a start, Obama is (unusually for a President) far more popular overseas than he is at home. His leadership – in concert with his bitter Tea Party enemies – has sharply polarised the country. Economic growth is still fragile and the President is seen as just as elitist and out of touch as his opponent.
And his opponent has formidable credentials. Romney is a non-ideological, arch rationalist who has built his career (and his formidable campaigning warchest) on successful corporate and civic leadership – The Economist got it right when it suggested that he is pitching himself as ‘CEO in Chief’. Obama may be a superb campaigner, but a battle-hardened Mitt, able to stay formidably, robotically on message, will be tough to beat.
And don’t believe the hype about his Mormonism or moderate politics turning off the Republican base. These people despise Obama and, as always, they will unite behind their candidate eventually. If Romney can iron out the odd gaffe, if he can restrain himself from pointing out that he is stratospherically wealthy, if he can tack back to the centre without exposing himself as ideologically opportunistic, he stands a real chance.
Especially if there are any bumps in the road to economic recovery. For James Carville’s maxim about what decides elections is still true. And who better to fix a broken economy than a CEO in Chief?
Team Obama will be taking the threat of Mitt Romney very seriously indeed. It is going to be a fascinating campaign. Get the popcorn in.