At today's CPAC conference, Mitt Romney departed the Republican primary field. Given the way he campaigned, I am not sorry to see him go. I was sorry to see the way he campaigned.
I have two grievances about his New Hampshire campaign. First, he just didn't show up. I direct a Public Policy Center at a college in New Hampshire. I didn't meet him. I met Senator McCain, Governor Huckabee, Congressman Paul, Congressman Tancredo, and unfortunately missed Congressman Hunter's event on campus. I saw the Mitt-mobile around town once or twice and was introduced to one of Governor Romney's sons by a student trying to bring Governor Romney to campus for a public lecture. What was he doing that he didn't have time to hit one of the few major colleges in the state?
Second, I know what he was doing with some of that time--spending his own money to saturate the primetime televsion hours with superficial, cynical, negative television ads. That's a fast way to alienate New Hampshire voters. It's one of the virtues of having the first primary here. The New Hampshire primary is designed for what McCain did--a rampage of townhall meetings where he took Q&A from the audience until they were satisfied he had heard and understood their concerns. And don't get me started again about Romney in Michigan.
Here's the irony. Based on his record and his personal resources, Governor Romney could have had the nomination in a walk. A Republican president in 2009 would have to work with a Democratically controlled legislature and would face a number of tough challenges. Maybe Governor Romney hasn't been keeping up with current events, but he actually faced an even more extreme version of that scenario in Massachusetts and had a reasonable record to show for it. All he had to do was to make the case that he worked with the Democrats to deliver results for the citizens of his state while holding the line on conservative issues. The problem with Senator McCain's record is that he has not held the line on conservative principles in his commendable efforts in the Senate to work with Democrats to deliver results. (Campaign finance and immigration are two prime examples.) An honest and positive campaign on that issue, without the free-lunch, supply-side economic rhetoric and the negative ads, would have generated a lot of support.