Former Massachusetts governor and Republican candidate for president Mitt Romney has embarked upon an utterly stupid political strategy: ignore Iowa, the first voting state in the 2012 Republican primary. As Frank Bruni of the New York Times puts it:
If the Iowa Republican debate were to provide a truly accurate mirror of the race at this juncture, Tim Pawlenty would wear a sandwich board, with a scrawled plea to the state’s voters: “Save me.” Michele Bachmann would spin onto the stage in a giant teacup, to find a microphone three times the size of anyone else’s and a spotlight four times as bright. Newt Gingrich, looking characteristically put out, would unveil a new campaign slogan: “The Glower for This Hour.”
And the party’s most likely nominee, Mitt Romney? He wouldn’t show. The less seen of him, after all, the better.
That’s not my harsh assessment. That’s been his de facto campaign strategy this summer.
Mr. Romney is following this strategy due to his failure to win Iowa during the 2008 Republican primary. After spending enormous amounts of time and money on the state, Mr. Romney found himself outflanked by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Despite running a number of negative ads on Mr. Huckabee, the former Massachusetts governor lost the primary by a considerable margin. Crucial to his loss was the perception of Mr. Romney as a flip-flopper who wasn’t a true conservative.
So this time the candidate is ignoring Iowa.
Unfortunately, Mr. Romney simply cannot ignore Iowa, whatever he may wish. If he does so, then he will certainly lose the state. No state likes to be ignored, and Mr. Romney is weak in Iowa already.
Most probably, either Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann or Governor Rick Perry will win Iowa if Mr. Romney does not compete. A victory in Iowa will then set up either candidate as the Republican alternative to Mr. Romney. The media pays huge amounts of attention to the Iowa caucuses. Whoever wins them, if Mr. Romney does not, will instantly be catapulted into national attention. And, given Mr. Romney’s weaknesses on consistency, there’s a very good chance that he will lose the nomination to them.
So Mr. Romney shouldn’t ignore Iowa. He has to compete; if he wins, than he can eliminate the threat to his candidacy early on. If he loses, he’ll more likely than not lose the nomination.
It’s a tough choice. Mr. Romney will more likely than not lose Iowa even if he does spend the next few months of his life campaigning in the state.
Once again Mr. Romney’s problems fundamentally boil down to the fact that he is a terrible politician. Given the weakness of the current Republican field, by all rights Mr. Romney should be leading his opposition by double-digits. And if he were doing that, then Governor Rick Perry would never have joined the field in the first place.
Unfortunately, there is little that Mr. Romney can do about this anymore. The only thing that he can do at this point is to stop ignoring the most important caucus in the nation.