Romney has certainly been fortunate with his opponents – and those who ducked the chance to take him on. On paper, Rick Perry should be the nominee. The longest-serving governor in Texas history, chief executive of a huge, job-creating state, an evangelical Christian with an easy charm and the looks of the Marlboro Man, Perry seemed to be everything a Republican nominee should be.
But Perry turned out to be an abysmal candidate. Whether handicapped by pain medicine for his bad back, a lack of fire in his belly or the fact that his luck finally ran out after a charmed political career in Texas, Perry was a dud – his “Oops” moment in a November debate a cruel epitaph for his candidacy.
Each time a new rival rose in the polls, they wilted under the fresh scrutiny and highlighted Romney’s strengths in the process. With Herman Cain gone and Michele Bachmann in the doldrums, in December Romney found himself facing a resurgent Newt Gingrich.
If Romney could have invented a man he would like to duke it out for the nomination, he couldn’t have done better than Gingrich – a lobbyist in all but name, a creature of Washington, thrice-married and with no money or campaign structure. Gingrich’s policy apostasies, including an embrace of elements of Obamacare, innoculated Romney.
Throw into the mix the maverick libertarian Ron Paul – a man with no chance of winning the Republican nomination but a possible Iowa victor – and the scenario got even better. A Paul win would do little to damage Romney but would stifle any chance of his rivals building momentum.
But the position Romney finds himself in is not accidental. He is a vastly improved candidate from the Romney of 2008. The fact that so many major Republican figures opted not to enter the fray was partly down to the formidable campaign operation Romney had built and his campaign’s machinations behind the scenes.