Monday, December 08, 2008

Mittragious: How Romney is angling for 2012

By Michael J.W. Stickings

"It is more essential than ever that conservative candidates and organizations have the resources they need to get their message out to voters."

-- Mitt Romney

In other words: "I'm running for president again!"

According to The Boston Globe, Romney has thus far used his self-glorifying Free and Strong America PAC not so much to support conservative candidates and causes but to support his "political ambitions, paying for salaries and consulting fees to over a half-dozen of Romney's longtime political aides."

However the money is spent, though -- and he's raised $2.1 million so far -- the objective is clear: Romney 2012. "In essence, Romney is financing a political enterprise that he can use to remain a national GOP leader and use as a springboard should he decide to launch another presidential bid for 2012."

Because even spreading the wealth around to conservative candidates and causes is about... Mitt Romney.

He lost the Republican nomination this year not so much because McCain was strong -- he wasn't at all; he won largely because the field was weak and because there wasn't a dominant conservative candidate -- but because he failed to win over conservatives, many of whom went for Huckabee (the preferred social conservative in the race) or Thompson (until his pathetic campaign fizzled out) or held their nose for McCain (thinking he could win over independents and win in November). He just never broke through this year, never secured the support and trust of conservatives, despite his impressive ground campaign (especially in the early states), outreach efforts to the right, and fund-raising abilities.

In the end, conservatives didn't buy it, either him or his brand, never quite believing that he was genuinely one of them. They suspected that he was merely an opportunist, willing to say whatever needed to be said to win them over. And -- ambitious guy that he is -- he knows that to win in 2012, and especially if high-profile conservatives like Palin are in the race, he'll need to be perceived to be, if not actually to be, one of them.

But how to be so perceived? After all, it's unlikely that he'll ever be able to put his insufficiently conservative past behind him. He tried to be a conservative this year and it didn't work, and, even four years from now, doubts will remain among those he is so desperately trying to woo.

So, evidently -- and in typical Romney fashion -- the strategy is to buy them off. Pump money into "conservative candidates and organizations" and have them "get their message out to voters."

What message? Why, that Romney's one of them, of course. It's called getting a return on your investment. And Romney knows how to play the game.

But will conservatives -- not just candidates and organizations but the grassroots elements of the GOP -- actually invest in Romney in return? Will they come to believe in him enough to throw their support behind him? I doubt it. He's still too transparently opportunistic, still to self-promotional. And, as the party shifts further and further to the right, there will be no shortage of (real) conservatives angling for the nomination in 2012, even if Obama remains an electoral juggernaut.

Romney's one advantage is the economy. If it continues to tank -- and it likely will, for a while -- he'll be able to campaign to his strengths by touting himself as the Republican most able to deal with it. Even then, though, there is hardly any guarantee that Republican primary voters, many of whom are stuck in the culture wars of the past, will trust him enough with the keys to the car.

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