February 16, 2008
In a move befitting his cornball wholesomeness, Mitt Romney endorsed McCain on Valentine’s Day, but he did at least refrain in this latest political makeover from declaring his former bitter rival to be his sweetheart. In the space of a week, the candidate whom Romney was willing to fight to the convention for the sake of very recently acquired high principle became the best choice for President. Having fought lamely for the heart of the Republican Party, Romney demonstrated that he had no heart for any serious political fight. It was as if the great rallying of anti-McCain forces that Romney had tried briefly to lead had never happened, almost as if it had all been some pro forma exercise in ritual protest before anointing a new ruler with chrism. As seemed likely once McCain took the lead in Florida, every other policy and priority in the Republican Party had to be subordinated to the war, and Romney made that much clear in his withdrawal announcement and again at the announcement of the endorsement. The argument Romney made on the 7th at CPAC made no sense, and it still made no sense when he repeated it again the next week.
If Romney believed himself to be better qualified for the nomination and for the Presidency than McCain, it seems as if he would feel obliged to persist in the race until it was no longer possible for him to win, if not for himself then at least for the sake of his supporters. According to his argument, “forestalling the start of a national campaign” would be a grave mistake in time of war, but that would have been true on Jan. 8 after he had lost the first two contests to his rivals. He stayed in long enough to become a rallying point for voters disaffected with McCain, but not long enough to do any good in that role. Even though Huckabee has been mathematically eliminated from any chance of becoming the nominee, he has persisted in offering resistance to McCain, whether for ambition or fun no one can quite say. Just as it seemed remotely possible that the nomination fight could have dragged on into late spring (and will still last at least until early March), providing the opportunity for conservatives to wring concessions out of their presumptive nominee, Romney stepped in to make sure that it ended prematurely. If one key to success in politics is timing, Romney has shown an impressive ability to time his actions incorrectly at every step.