The most impressive thing about Mitt Romney is his clarity of mind. When he set out to pursue his party’s nomination, he studied the contours of the Republican coalition and molded himself to its forms.
Earnestly and methodically, he has appealed to each of the major constituency groups. For national security conservatives, he vowed to double the size of the prison at Guantánamo Bay. For social conservatives, he embraced a culture war against the faithless. For immigration skeptics, he swung so far right he earned the endorsement of Tom Tancredo.
He has spent roughly $80 million, including an estimated $17 million of his own money, hiring consultants, blanketing the airwaves and building an organization that is unmatched on the Republican side.
And he has turned himself into the party’s fusion candidate. Some of his rivals are stronger among social conservatives. Others are stronger among security conservatives, but no candidate has a foot in all camps the way Romney does. No candidate offends so few, or is the acceptable choice of so many.
And that is why Romney is at the fulcrum of the Republican race. He’s looking strong in Iowa and is the only candidate who can afford to lose an important state and still win the nomination.
And yet as any true conservative can tell you, the sort of rational planning Mitt Romney embodies never works. The world is too complicated and human reason too limited. The PowerPoint mentality always fails to anticipate something. It always yields unintended consequences.
But his biggest problem is a failure of imagination. Market research is a snapshot of the past. With his data-set mentality, Romney has chosen to model himself on a version of Republicanism that is receding into memory. As Walter Mondale was the last gasp of the fading New Deal coalition, Romney has turned himself into the last gasp of the Reagan coalition.
I remain not fully persuaded by the surging conservative crack-up thesis, but it’s a good column.