Romney’s real opponents weren’t on Tuesday’s stage

As recently as a couple of months ago, it wasn’t entirely clear who the Republican presidential frontrunner was, or if the GOP even had one. That’s clearly no longer the case — with about seven months to go before Iowans make their choice, Mitt Romney is cruising.

The former governor leads in all the polls; he has the most money; he has the best message; and as of this week, he appears to be the best debater. Romney is doing so well, he’s already talking as if he’ll probably win the presidency next year.

But before Romney starts measuring the Oval Office drapes, it’s worth noting that electoral dangers loom for the frontrunner. Romney emerged unscathed from the New Hampshire debate, but as the race heats up, the gloves will likely come off. Even if they don’t, Sahil Kapur reports today on the increasingly-organized right-wing campaign that will target the former governor.

Probably the most prominent group targeting Romney is FreedomWorks, the Dick Armey-led conservative organization. The group has been increasingly vocal about its opposition to the former governor of Massachusetts. “Romney has a record and we don’t really like it that much,” Adam Brandon, FreedomWorks’ communications director, recently told The Huffington Post. Now the group is threatening to unleash part of its $25 million treasure trove in an attempt to sink his candidacy.

Brendan Steinhauser, the group’s director of federal and state campaigns, tells me the only way Romney might avoid this fate is to start by apologizing unequivocally for “RomneyCare” and make other outreach efforts to conservatives. Otherwise, the group, which boasts over a million members, more than 750,000 fans on Facebook, and an equally large activist email list, is ready to mobilize against him. “The question of whether Romney is acceptable on policy is a huge question, and I don’t think that he is, because of health care in particular, and because of his supplying a bunch of bad ideas,” says Steinhauser. “And we believe we can get a rock-solid fiscal conservative elected president.”

FreedomWorks is a right-wing powerhouse, but it won’t be acting alone. Alaskan Joe Miller — remember him? — has taken it upon himself to launch a new “Stop Romney” campaign and intends to spend as much as $500,000 in New Hampshire to derail Romney’s bid. And the religious right also intends to get involved, with American Right To Life vowing to hammer Romney in Iowa and South Carolina.

This won’t be easy, of course. If the anti-Romney contingents divide their support among a half-dozen other candidates, he can still cruise to easy primary and caucus wins. With campaign coffers bubbling over, Romney will also be able to drown out the attack ads with messages of his own.

But I mention all of this because nominations aren’t won in June. If Super Tuesday were next week, Romney would be in excellent shape, but it’s not. Voters haven’t heard much about Romney’s vulnerabilities, and there are many that can drag his support down.

The attack ads won’t even have to lie — Romney’s a former pro-choice governor who supported gay rights, gun control, and combating climate change, who distanced himself from Reagan. Romney’s sole accomplishment served as a blueprint for President Obama’s health care policy, considered poison in Republican politics. He doesn’t know anything about national security or foreign policy; his record on jobs is atrocious; and he’s flip-flopped on nearly every issue under the sun.

If I had to put money on one of the GOP candidates, I guess it’d be on Romney since the rest of the field is so ridiculous. But he’s a weak frontrunner who can be shown to be ideologically unacceptable to the party with minimal effort.