Rick Santorum’s unexpected departure from the GOP presidential nomination race cleared the way and shortened the time for Mitt Romney to feel like President Obama’s next challenger. Romney is where he wanted, but not necessarily in the best situation expected.
The Republican primaries were especially wearing for the former Massachusetts governor, who anticipated rivalry. But he never expected to be accused of being anti-immigrant, a Wall Street banker and other claims that leave him exposed to criticism from Democrats in the general election, even before earning the GOP nomination.
The apparent end of the primaries did not leave Romney in a solid position among the Republican base either. The party’s race is not ending because he obtained overwhelming support with his charisma and ideas, but because his opponent strategically dropped out. A large portion of the GOP made up of social conservatives, Christians and Tea Party supporters still mistrusts Romney. It’s dangerous to bet that disliking the president will be enough motivation for these constituents to vote enthusiastically in November.
Winning the trust of voters is indeed Romney’s big challenge. During the primaries, he took on political positions that contradicted positions he previously held as candidate for governor and governor of Massachusetts. This lack of consistency damaged his image among conservatives, who saw him as insincere, and with independents, who in the best of cases are confused with his shifts of position.
Romney has the opportunity to unite the party behind him so he can finally run against Obama without any distractions. Time is in his favor. But only time will tell whether he makes the most of it to show what he’s all about and convince voters of the virtues of the real Romney.