Misguided boasts about a new ceiling

Republican consultant/pundit Mike Murphy got in an interesting dig this morning at the conventional wisdom surrounding Mitt Romney. In particular, Murphy noted a Fox News poll showing Romney leading the GOP pack with 40% support nationally.

“But wait, I’ve been hearing about Mitt’s ‘25% cap’ from media pundits for a year!”

At first blush, this seems compelling. Romney spent a year with Republican support stuck in the low-to-mid 20s, so it stands to reason that some of his supporters would gloat now that there’s one poll (and only one poll) showing the frontrunner reaching a new plateau — and the first digit is 4, not 2.

But let’s not look past some of the relevant details here. Pundits mocked Romney’s 25% ceiling for months because, well, he kept running into a 25% ceiling. The argument wasn’t that he’d be literally incapable of ever generating more support; the argument was that Romney would have broken past this ceiling months ago if he were a better, more appealing candidate.

Consider an interesting tidbit: in nearly every instance since 1959, by the October before the primaries, the Republican frontrunner enjoyed support of at least 41% of the party in national Gallup polls and then went on to win their party’s nomination. How many national Gallup polls showed Romney reaching 30% among Republicans at any point in 2011? Zero.

Sure, Romney is no longer Mr. 25%. Congratulations to him. The field is shrinking; he’s destroyed his main rivals in a weak field; and the cap is rising accordingly. For those of us who assumed Romney’s nomination was inevitable anyway, none of this is the least bit surprising. When the GOP field shrinks a little more, he’ll almost certainly get to 50%, which he should given that he’ll be the party’s presidential nominee.

But what pundits should keep in mind is this: the new ceiling isn’t the result of a surge in Romney support; it’s the result of Republican voters resigned to their fate after waiting in vain for someone better to come along. “Fine,” the party is saying. “I guess we’re stuck with that guy.”

And that is nothing to brag about.