Why Romney’s not debating in Oregon

by Brendan Monaghan

With Super Tuesday now well behind us and another supposedly-important delegate dash in our wake, it’s time for certain people to face some unpleasant facts. Tuesday’s narrative, parroted by the left-wing media and the right-wing commentariat alike, was more of the same: another bad night for the apparent Republican frontrunner, Mitt Romney. He struggled to connect with “real Americans” and just can’t close the deal to win the party’s presidential nomination. He’s viewed as being too moderate- or liberal- a RINO, even when one of Romney’s current rivals called him a “real conservative” when he last sought the office. Most of all, they say Romney can’t deliver the base (and thus can’t beat Obama) because they see him as a flip-flopper. Even though the base itself has collectively flipped and flopped between at least four different candidates.

What actually happened was Governor Romney won the most delegates out of Tuesday night’s four contests, effectively neutralizing his narrow losses in proportional Mississippi and Alabama with big wins in Hawaii and winner-take-all American Samoa (yes, the territories and islands count just as much). Rather than failing to get any closer to the magic 1,144 and dragging on the nomination race forever, Romney actually increased his lead. The facts curiously run counter to what those on the far-left and far-right in the media are suggesting, curiously sharing the goal of torpedoing Mitt Romney’s candidacy. Rather than failing to connect with “ordinary voters,” Romney consistently wins every significant category- except white evangelicals and the undereducated. And on the question of electability, there is no question. Even in Alabama and Mississippi, Governor Romney is seen by wide margins of having the best chance of beating Barack Obama.

The simple yet perhaps inconvenient truth is that the competitive phase of the Republican primary contests has ended. Mitt Romney will be the Republican Party’s nominee. The question is not “if” but “when.” By slog or by knockout. National Journal illustrated as much last week, and Tuesday’s results were mere continuations of that trend. “If Romney continues on the path he’s set,” they say, “he will achieve the 1,144 delegates he needs to win.” Only a monumental 1969 Chicago Cubs-style collapse, in which Romney starts losing everywhere, could set up a brokered convention with winner-take-all states on the way. And only if Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum drop out- and the surviving rival dominates Romney by astronomical margins- can a Republican not named “Mitt Romney” claim the nomination outright. National Journal calls this “a highly improbable scenario.”

Why is this important? It illustrates why Governor Romney decided not to attend a potential debate in Portland next week that he never committed to in the first place. Never mind that 20 debates- more than any year in any party primary for any office in any country in history- is more than enough and far more than most voters can stand. Never mind that the chances of learning anything new- no matter how insignificant- about any of the four major candidates is slim to nil. There is understandable anger and frustration- albeit unjustified- from many Republicans in Oregon. Obviously the Party itself loses out on what they hoped would be a major fundraiser. Yet, they planned to shut out all but maximum donors and pressed on ahead, banking on the race still being in doubt after Super Tuesday, without getting a commitment in advance from anyone. When the one guy who mattered- the one candidate virtually assured of being the nominee- said “no,” the Party tried to do the debate with three.

Understandably, the faction of Republicans in Oregon most expressing their anger openly are the irreconcilables. Oh, they might claim to be “undecided.” Perhaps they haven’t settled on a candidate to support, but they have decided they will under no circumstances support Willard Mitt Romney for President. In the primary, certainly, but in some cases, even the general election itself. He is the candidate, for reasons aforementioned or best left unsaid, who can seemingly do no right in their eyes, even after he’s put the nomination out of reach. Thus, he would seem to have even less reason to come to Oregon as there would be nothing he could say or do to convince the irreconcilables- still pining for Ronald Reagan’s resurrection- to support him, in the primary or the general.

Oregon’s would-be debate wouldn’t fit with Romney’s game plan. The debate is nearly two months before the primary itself, so Romney has little to lose but absolutely nothing to gain from flying in and out. He can save a trip to Oregon for May. Romney is past the phase of lowering himself to the level of the field and giving his rivals continued legitimacy. He should be raising money in preparation for Obama’s billion-dollar onslaught and making closing arguments to Republicans that center around, yes, electability and inevitability. He should set his sights on courting swing voters, moderates, independents, genuine undecideds, and as President Eisenhower called them, “the straight-thinking Democrats.” He should not continue to play in Round One when he has already clinched his spot in the championship game.


Brendan is a graduate student at Portland State University, where he hosts the KPSU “Right Jab” radio program, and a regular contributor at Oregon Catalyst. Brendan is studying political science, and graduated from The Ohio State University in 2007, with a degree in political science.