In a weird way, the general election is starting to look like the GOP primary.
GOP voters were underwhelmed by Mitt Romney and wanted (were even desperate) to find an alternative to Romney that was electable, credible, and not named Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum.
Throughout the primary, we heard relentless talk about the "Anti-Romney" -- a candidate who could scoop up all that disaffection over the party's prohibitive favorite and become the candidate of choice.
At various points, different potential anti-Romney's popped up, but over time, each new Anti-Romney stumbled, thanks to devastating attacks from Romney + self-imposed blunders.
In the end, Romney won almost by default. Deep swaths of the GOP were apathetic about it, and his victory party looked more like a sigh of relief than of exaltation.
In short, Romney beat the Anti-Romney. But that didn't mean he won a lot of hearts, in the process.
We're watching a remarkably similar movie in the general election, except this time Barack Obama plays the role of Mitt Romney, and Romney steps into the shoes of the Anti-Romney.
You get the sense that about 50% of voters want a new president, they're even desperate for a new president, they want to like an Anti-Obama, they want to vote for an Anti-Obama, but their problem is that Romney happens to be the Anti-Obama.
Romney has suffered from a) brutal attacks from Obama (much like Restore Our Future's attacks on Santorum and Gingrich) and b) A string of dumb missteps that seems to keep him from picking up any momentum.
That's why we're sitting where we are right now -- with Obama leading, but still extremely vulnerable.
The growing question and concern for Republicans is whether Romney is actually capable of seizing on those vulnerabilities.
There's a yes/no answer to this question.
Yes: Romney is a stronger candidate than Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich. Whatever Mitt's flaws, he won a primary as a moderate Republican with an increasingly conservative base. That's why you have to say that, yes, Romney is stronger than Santorum or Gingrich.
If true, then that suggests he can, indeed, take advantage of Obama's vulnerabilities and knock him from the front-running perch.
No: Romney was a stronger candidate than Gingrich or Santorum for loads of reasons, but Obama seems to also be a stronger candidate than Romney for a variety of them. He's more likable, has a more friendly electoral map, and sports all the powers of the incumbency.
Thus, it could be that Obama is playing the role of Primary Romney and Romney is playing the role of Anti-Romney in the primary.
One more thing -- remember how inevitable Romney felt throughout the entire primary? There were only about three points when you felt a little iffy about his chances -- when Rick Perry entered the race, when Gingrich rolled out of South Carolina, and when Rick Santorum nearly took Michigan.
Yet outside of those three points and outside all the chatter about Romney's weaknesses and vulnerabilities, he was nearly always treated as the inevitable nominee.
It seems something like that is happening in the general election.
Despite a few troublesome spots, Obama has felt inevitable to a lot of people -- both with voters (who seem to think Obama will win reelection), pundits (who are privately more bullish on Obama than they'll admit publicly), and just about everyone else.
Yes, it seems like Obama might be exactly who Romney was in the GOP primary. That's not a great thing, but it could be good enough.