Here lieth the campaign of Mitt Romney, victim of the mistaken belief that the only way to succeed in national Republican politics was to turn yourself into something you are not. Or maybe the campaign revealed what his closest friends never imaged him to be. They thought he was a decent classy guy. But maybe he really is a soulless throat-cutter who would do and say anything to win.
I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he was a good fellow who didn't know enough about national politics and listened to people who gave him bad, cynical advice.
Sen. John McCain was in a good position before; now it's hard to imagine that he won't wrap up the nomination in the next week or two. His lone remaining serious opponent, Mike Huckabee, has exceeded expectations, but expecting him to be able to unhorse McCain is perhaps expecting too much.
I have covered a lot of presidential campaigns, and I can't think of one that so lost its way-so expensively-as that of the former governor of Massachusetts. A board room and business favorite, a man with a Midas managerial touch, he was widely admired and even beloved. But he was a Republican of an old moderate school-that of his own father-and, like George W. Bush, Romney the Younger decided that he had to jettison all that he was to become something that he was not.
And so it was that this square peg spent perhaps $80 million-including at least $30 million of his own money-trying to pound himself into a round hole. It didn't work. The irony of his failed campaign: if he had just stuck to selling his managerial mettle, he might well have won the nomination, given the way the country's economic anxieties have become voters' number one concern.
Even as conservative radio talk-show hosts reluctantly settled on him as their savior, they were uneasy about it and about his previous record of social moderation and fiscal flexibility. They sold him hard in the last few weeks, but to no avail. Romney won his home state and the states in the West where Mormonism was familiar, but not much else.
The quality of being genuine is hard to convey, and deciding who should be president based solely on that basis can lead to disaster; you need brains and an ability to go with the flow as well. But voters know a phony above all and Romney came off as one from the get-go. Over the last decade he had changed his views in a rightward direction on so many issues to suit what he thought he needed to win the GOP nomination that he ended up standing for nothing but his own ambition.
He had good staff in the early states, but as soon as the genuine article (or at least a more genuine article) came along in Iowa, in the form of Mike Huckabee, Romney was blown away. Then, having ceded the moderate ground, he lost in New Hampshire to another genuine article, John McCain (who learned his own lessons about the dangers of pandering to the right earlier in his campaign).
It's no accident that the GOP race is down to three men who are clear about who they are: McCain, Huckabee and, yes, Ron Paul.
All of that was Romney's own doing. But he also was damaged by a factor over which he had no control and, to his credit, he didn't seek to mute--his Mormonism. In the Bible Belt, his faith is anathema. And yet when the head of the Mormon Church passed away, Romney left the campaign trail to attend the funeral in Salt Lake that may have damaged him on the eve of Super Tuesday.
It was a class act, one of the few in his otherwise misbegotten campaign. Rest in peace.