Romney's Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda
I’ve written a fair bit recently about whether former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney can retool for a run at the presidency in 2012 by focusing his campaign message on jobs and the economy, rather than trying to win as a standard bearer for the social conservative agenda. I raise this again because Romney has now said in an interview that an emphasis on jobs and the economy is precisely what he should have offered last time, in order to beat Senator John McCain for the Republican nomination. While this may turn out to be a smart strategic shift for Romney in two years, given the severity of the recession, I’m pretty sure that in the previous presidential contest it wouldn’t have made any difference in the outcome.
In 2008, Romney’s politics were largely unknown to the powerful block of social and religious conservatives who drive the vote in many of the Republican primaries and caucuses. As a former governor of famously liberal Massachusetts, Romney already had one glaring red flag attached to his candidacy, and many of these conservative voters could easily use the web to watch old clips of Romney saying not only that he was pro-choice, but that there was no greater friend of the gay community in Massachusetts than he. These are not exactly the kind of sentiments that produce Republican victories in Iowa and South Carolina, and Romney's eleventh hour conversion on these issues only made voters more suspicious.
Since that was Romney’s first trip through the presidential selection wringer, even if he had talked more about job creation and had been able to match McCain’s credentials on the Iraq surge, he still would have hit the values buzz saw in the primaries. So, it was the logical place for other GOP presidential hopefuls to attack. Plus, McCain was already well-known nationally, had the foreign policy cred, and a long conservative voting record in the Senate as backup. We shall see whether Romney, his party, and the country are in a different place in two years. His stock seems to be rising among conservatives, at least in the short-term.

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