January 09, 2008

In the bizarre world where Hugh Hewitt and Mitt Romney reside, successfully executing an early-state strategy matters only when your main opposition is supposed to be someone pursuing a delayed, “national” strategy … even though your claim to be viable and electable rests heavily on being able to win those early contests. Leave aside that it is precisely because your opponent pursued this “national” strategy that he now appears to have removed himself from serious contention nationwide. Here’s Romney:

“€œWhat’s happened that’s quite different is that we were anticipating that we had to win the first two primaries to go up against Rudy Giuliani, who was way ahead in the national polls, and who would have a commanding lead in Florida. Well, now Rudy Giuliani’s no longer in the lead in the national polls, and it looks like he’s number four or number three in Florida. So the whole world is different than we thought, and it’s much more of an open process than we”€™d expected with at least three and maybe more Republicans all vying for votes. And I think it’s anybody’s guess as to exactly how this is going to turn out.”€  

Romney now maintains that his failure to execute his reasonable strategy is made effectively irrelevant by the failure of Giuliani’s crazy strategy (which was always going to fail). This sounds pretty strange. It is also blatantly revisionist, which is something that Romney is used to being. Romney was locked into a traditional early-state strategy even before Giuliani was in the race, and it was because he had already committed massive resources to Iowa that neither McCain nor Giuliani wanted to be seen as contesting in that state for the longest time. (Although Giuliani campaigned more for fewer votes in Iowa than just about anyone else). Back when he ruled in Ames and his campaign appeared to be a juggernaut, the talk was that Romney had scared off McCain and Giuliani. His strategy thus predated Giuliani’s crazy national strategy and was, to some extent, the cause of it. Now that his strategy has failed, he would like to rewrite the history of the last year (much of which, it turns out, he wasted on his failed strategy) and pretend that it was always an anti-Giuliani gambit “€“ when at the beginning it was supposed to be an anti-McCain gambit. Now that McCain has just beaten him and is being crowned (quite prematurely) as the new frontrunner, Romney has no interest in reminding everyone that McCain was once perceived as his major rival and the establishment candidate that he had to defeat…in early states such as New Hampshire. 

Next week comes Michigan, one of several January primaries penalized by the national committee for violating the post-February-5 requirement for election dates. This means that the number of delegates won will be, at least until the national committee changes something, half of what they would have been otherwise, making Michigan a much poorer prize. But for Romney this no longer matters “€“ Michigan truly is a must-win vote for him, and a loss there would be far more deadly to his future prospects than his defeat in New Hampshire. This is because it would put the lie to the claims of Romney’s supporters that he is the most viable candidate in the field.  Romney’s supposed home-court advantage in Michigan, where he grew up and where his father governed for six years, has surprisingly never been at all certain. Early last year, he and McCain were vying for support in the Michigan state party apparatus, and McCain had success in Michigan in 2000. What Romney never counted on was the need to contest one of his “€œhome”€ states with someone like Huckabee, who has jumped into contention with the other leaders and has a natural base of support among the state’s evangelicals. A loss in a state to which he has strong personal and family connections to either of his two most bitter rivals would be particularly humiliating. Despite Romney’s new focus on his record of “€œturnaround”€ competence “€“ this latest iteration of his candidacy, appropriately dubbed “Romney 4.0” “€“ his inability to win in any early contest of significance throws into doubt Romney’s political competence, which at this point is the qualification with which nervous Republicans looking to November are most desperately concerned.  


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