Republican political strategist and former White House counselor Ed Gillespie tells Newsmax in an exclusive interview that Mitt Romney doesn't have the problems with conservative voters that many pundits describe.
Instead, Romney has consistently polled quite well with social and economic conservatives, Gillespie points out — a fact that should serve him well in South Carolina's primary.
Gillespie adds that electability will be a major asset for Romney because Republicans fear that four more years of President Obama will do “irreparable damage” to the country.
A victory in the South Carolina primary would make Romney the “prohibitive favorite” to win the GOP nomination, Gillespie says. He doubts that Romney’s Mormonism will hurt him in that conservative state, and asserts that whoever wins the nomination will make Obama a one-term president in November.
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Gillespie was counselor to the president in the George W. Bush administration. In 2004, he became the first chairman of the Republican National Committee to preside over his party’s winning the White House and both houses on Congress.
As policy and communications director for the House Republican Conference, he was a principal drafter of the Contract with America, the 1994 campaign platform that helped the GOP gain control of the House for the first time in 40 years. His book “Winning Right: Campaign Politics and Conservative Policies” was published in 2006.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV, Gillespie says Romney’s success in becoming the first non-incumbent presidential candidate to win both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary is “pretty significant. He did not fare as well in Iowa last time around. He’s improved his performance.
“He’s got good organization in the early primary states. I think we saw that pay off for him in Iowa even though he entered late, and certainly in New Hampshire. And now South Carolina will be a test for him. If he gets through that and goes three for three in the first primaries he’ll be pretty formidable going forward.
“I wouldn’t say he wraps up the nomination at that point, but he certainly becomes the prohibitive favorite. There could be twists and turns along the way, but if he were to win South Carolina and Florida as well, you could start to see a real consolidation and it would be very difficult for someone to overtake him.”
No candidate has ever won a party’s presidential nomination without winning either Iowa or New Hampshire. Asked whether that bodes poorly for Romney’s GOP rivals, Gillespie responds: “It would definitely put them behind the 8 ball. But there are always firsts and I don’t think because it hasn’t happened before it couldn’t happen in 2012.
“But there’s a reason for that historic pattern and it would take a lot to break the historic pattern.”
Referring to a new Rasmussen poll showing most voters believe Romney is the only Republican with a good chance of beating Obama, Gillespie said electability “is a factor everywhere for Governor Romney, in the nationwide surveys and certainly in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“We saw that voters who had as a principal concern the ability to defeat President Obama in November voted overwhelmingly for Governor Romney. In South Carolina, that’s going to a factor.
“There’s very little that matters more to rank-and-file Republicans right now than getting President Obama out of the White House for a legitimate fear that four more years of his administration would do irreparable damage to our economy and to our country.”
As for charges from several GOP rivals that Romney “looted” companies while he headed Bain Capital, Gillespie tells Newsmax: “Governor Romney has made a very compelling case that one of the rationales for his candidacy is his understanding of the private sector and job creation. So it’s not surprising to me that opponents would try to undermine that asset and turn that into a negative. I think it’s harder to do in the Republican Party primary than it will be in the general election.
“But if Governor Romney turns out to be the nominee, it will be good for him to have to parry these charges in the primary, because there’s no doubt that President Obama is going to attack his private-sector experience in the general.”
Gillespie doesn’t believe the argument that Romney is a moderate will hurt him with conservative South Carolina voters.
“I’m sure that Governor Nikki Haley’s endorsement will help him with conservative voters in South Carolina,” he says. “And if you look at data from the voters in New Hampshire, Romney did very well with self-identified conservatives. My recollection is he got about a third of conservative voters. He also got about a third of late-deciders, which tells you there’s not a ceiling there.”
Similarly, Gillespie doesn’t believe Romney’s Mormon faith will hurt him in South Carolina: “When you look at polling data, any concern about Mormonism is much more pronounced among self-identified Democrats than Republicans. So I’m not sure that is going to be a big factor in South Carolina.
“People thought it was going to be a big factor in Iowa and it didn’t show up in Iowa.”
Asked whether he agrees with another poll showing that many voters think the tea party will hurt Republicans in 2012, Gillespie declares: “I don’t think that’s the case at all. I’m glad they’re involved in the process. I’m glad that they’re voting in Republican Party primaries and not running third-party candidates. And I’m glad that they’re giving some steel spine to members of Congress to hold firm against efforts by President Obama and the Democrats to increase spending and raise taxes.”
Gillespie says that, if the election took place today, Obama would be a one-term president, adding: “More importantly I think he will be a one-term president when the election is held in November.
“People are very concerned about the direction of the country. They’re fearful about their jobs and the economy. And while many voters continue to like President Obama personally, they’ve come to the conclusion that he’s in over his head and, as president, he is not providing the kind of leadership we need in these very difficult times.
“I’m confident that whoever emerges as the Republican nominee is going to have a better than 50-50 chance of being the next president of the United States.”
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