Mitt Romney’s ‘Luck’

I don’t really believe there’s no such thing as luck in presidential nomination politics. But the continuing idea that Mitt Romney is just lucky is almost certainly wrong.

It’s quite popular, by the way — longtime Romney pessimist Jonathan Chait attributes the Mittster’s survival to luck, as did Time’s Michael Crowley earlier. See also here and here and here.

And yet much of what these folks all attribute to luck is, most likely, really about Romney being rewarded for success.

To begin with: Romney was willing and eager to run for president, while others have hesitated to do so. That’s not really luck. In baseball analysis, they say that health is a skill; in presidential politics, insane, all-encompassing ambition is a skill. It allows people to run even when the odds are iffy, and when doing so will be hard on the candidate and his or her family, and when running to win means jettisoning deeply held issue positions in order to appeal to the primary electoral and important constituency groups.

Next: it’s also very possible, as I’ve been saying, that some of the Christies and Ryans and whoevers had plenty of ambition, but didn’t get in (or at least didn’t get in all the way) precisely because Romney had already locked in so many of the resources needed to run.

One more: I do think Romney has been a bit luck in that his most serious rivals who reached the debates haven’t performed well in those high-profile opportunities. It wasn’t Romney’s brilliance that caused Rick Perry to stumble all over his prepared attack lines. And yet Romney has proven to be a highly disciplined and acceptably charming debater this time around, and that’s helped make Perry and, earlier, Tim Pawlenty look bad by comparison.

In short, when you see everyone in the path to the throne mysteriously disappear, the best guess is that the prince who winds up first in line wasn’t just lucky, but might have had more to do with it than meets the eye.

All that said, I still have no particular view of whether Romney or Perry will wind up the nominee. I do think that the current tendency to write off Perry is silly; he remains just as viable today as ever, and given Romney’s still very real vulnerabilities, three’s no reason (based at least on what’s been reported) to think that the battle is close to done. And of course Romney is lucky that John McCain didn’t elevate someone with his VP pick in ’08 who would have known how to capitalize on it. But overall, Romney is where he is because he’s run a very good campaign so far. In my experience, that’s not luck.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.