August 30, 2009


The Long-Distance Runner: While other 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls crash, burn, and sputter, Mitt Romney has quietly been raising millions, casting himself as a New Hampshire son, keeping cozy with the NRA, and otherwise perfecting his Mr. Perfect approach. (Sasha Issenberg, August 30, 2009, Boston Globe Magazine)

When Mitt Romney strode onstage just past noon on Thursday, February 7, 2008, many of those attending CPAC did not know that he was no longer a candidate for president. The basement of Washington’s Omni Shoreham hotel is deep out of cellphone range, and so the news that had popped up on blogs 20 minutes earlier -- that Romney would use his speech to withdraw -- barely moved the ballroom, then featuring a panel discussion on books by Barry Goldwater, Russell Kirk, and Ayn Rand. “Mitt! Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!” the crowd cheered upon Romney’s arrival.

The day before, Romney had gathered his senior staff in a conference room in his Boston headquarters to assess his options after Super Tuesday. He had carried all but one of the day’s caucus states, evidence that he had at long last won over conservative activists. But, with the exception of Massachusetts, he had lost the big-population states -- California, New York, Illinois, New Jersey -- which gave their delegates to John McCain, and whose demographics augured poorly for Romney’s ability to build a broad base of support.

Romney enjoys watching debates play out in front of him, and he invited aides to make the case for fighting on. Even another month as a candidate could help Romney establish a national constituency as an alternative to McCain and allow him to quit the race as undisputed runner-up in a party that has long recognized rank. (The Republican nominees in 1980, 1988, and 1996 had each finished second in the previous open primary season, as McCain had in 2000.) But Romney’s advisers were convinced that former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who had tangled with Romney for the votes of social conservatives, would make his own bid for that role.

“Even under the rosiest scenario, it was hard to see how the data worked out,” says Phil Musser, a senior adviser who had by then left the campaign. “He was cleareyed about the math and what continuing meant for his wallet, in order to keep up a long fight with a slim chance of success.”

Romney ended the meeting and went home to Belmont to write a speech for CPAC, while a group of aides decamped, as they often did in the evenings, for burgers and beer at the North End’s Waterfront Cafe. Eventually spokesman Madden’s BlackBerry buzzed with a draft from Romney. Staying in the race, he had concluded, would only weaken McCain’s prospects against Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. “In this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror,” Romney had written.

Romney returned to his office the following week in a T-shirt and jeans, ready to travel to his California home. From there, Romney’s staff informed McCain’s, he would be willing to travel to Arizona for a formal endorsement ceremony. But McCain’s camp volunteered their candidate, campaigning that day in Rhode Island, for an immediate photo op in Boston. Romney wavered about doing it so quickly -- he held a ticket for a middle seat on a JetBlue flight later that day and hesitated about paying the cancellation fee -- but was flattered that McCain would show deference and come to him. Hours later, after postponing his flight and changing into a suit, Romney met with McCain privately for 15 minutes and asked what he could do. McCain made a standard request: He entreated Romney to campaign for him and other Republican candidates. Then the two walked out in front of an American flag and made it official.

It was an early indication that Romney’s long-term strategy would be undiverted by the grudges and pique that often endure among rivals. When McCain found himself in a similar scenario against George W. Bush eight years earlier, he had prolonged the end of his flailing campaign, projected a visible discomfort when he finally endorsed, and participated in a “shadow convention” that drew attention away from Bush’s nomination. Romney decided to be a good soldier.

“That we just put down to him being smart,” says Mark Salter, a McCain adviser who was among Romney’s most vehement detractors during the primaries. “He got out and then graciously said, ‘Put me to work.’ And I don’t think he turned down anything we asked him to do.”

The brutal reality is that unless Mr. Romney converts to Catholicism or becomes a Baptist he has no shot. He's seeking the nomination of a party in which many don't consider him a fellow Christian. John McCain has already demonstrated that "skip IA, win NH, lose SC" is not a viable strategy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 30, 2009 12:41 PM
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