08 Feb 2008

Ruffini on Huckabee and Romney

Conservative political strategist and blogger Patrick Ruffini has an interesting insider’s take on the fatal flaw of the Romney strategy. It was written on February 2nd, and seems even more relevant now – with Super Tuesday in the rear-view mirror – than it did then.

Huckabee and McCain represent two very distinct sides of both the Republican party and the ‘conservative’ movement in general. Huckabee is traditional and appeals to the base; McCain appeals to moderates and fence-sitters. That they are fundamentally different candidates is well-understood; this has basically been the nature of the Republican party since 1980 or so, and candidates’ overall success has basically been measured by how well they reconcile these two groups.

Enter Mitt Romney: onetime moderate, blue-state governor, Yankee Republican, entrepreneur. Realizing perhaps that it would be impossible for him to ‘out-liberal’ McCain without opening himself to accusations of being the Republican answer to Joe Lieberman, he made the strategic choice to place himself to the right of McCain and compete instead for the social conservative vote.

I thought and continue to think that this is a move requiring a whole lot of cojones. I’m not sure it was a good move, but you have to at least appreciate the inherent audacity. In theory, it’s pretty brilliant, but as good old Carl von Clausewitz once said, “Theory becomes infinitely more difficult as soon as it touches the realm of moral values.”

McCain is the Coca-Cola of GOP candidates, always performing at a consistent 30-40% … McCain does well in swing counties and liberal-leaning metro areas, but surprisingly, he doesn’t tank in rural, Evangelical areas. But Romney does.

My suspicion right now is that history will remember Romney’s bid as an interesting, but ultimately unsuccessful, gamble. What he probably could have been best at – wooing moderate voters and staking out a reasonable plank on both social and fiscal issues, backed with lots of past performance – was crushed as McCain and Obama both moved towards the center from opposite directions.

EDITED TO ADD: Romney dropped out earlier this afternoon, but has currently not pledged his delegates to any other candidate.

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