Romney's Graceful Exit

Mitt Romney's decision to stand aside and acknowledge Sen. John McCain as the likely Republican nominee will serve the former Massachusetts governor well in his future endeavors.

He will be well-positioned to run for office -- national or state -- anytime he wants. He is certainly an automatic leading candidate for the nomination in 2012, should Republicans fail to capture the White House in November.

McCain was gracious to Romney in his speech today, but some of his advisers understand that something substantive has to come from Romney's concession.

What follows is not a postmortem or an obit... just some thoughts.

Romney's fellow candidates did not like him. They saw him as an upstart who synthesized his conservatism in order to cater to the Republican base. Romney changed his mind on many positions; some of these were acknowledged and others weren't. Many of the position changes were suspiciously recent. Though, Romney was always more conservative, personally, than his opponents gave him credit for, he was struck with the curse of being found to lack credibility from the start.

He was more comfortable running as a social conservative than as a social liberal, but he never found the right way to voice his optimism, and his stump speeches often reflected pessimism, not optimism: America under attack from all corners.

Romney found his voice too late; had he run principally as an anti-Washington reformer, he would have found a niche in this race. For many, he was the default candidate, though. It's never good to be a default candidate.

He also messed up on immigration. Instead of finding a way to bridge the differences between the nativists and the intergrationalists in the party, he alienated both, at least initially. The majority of Republicans are neither nativists nor integrationalists. No candidate, actually, has found a way to finesse this. And if Republicans don't finesse this, they're dead as a party for a few cycles.

Romney was hurt by his religion. Some Republican voters in Iowa and other states were bigots. , as were secular liberals and Democrats who enjoyed a good Mormon joke or two. That's a fact of life.

Beth Myers ran a fantastic campaign, arguably the best of any campaign this cycle. The campaign's organizational successes were the envy of their opponents. Most of Romney's money was put to good use, all other things being equal.

Was the early emphasis on Iowa and New Hampshire a mistake? In retrospect, who knows? But I think it was the best strategy available to a candidate with Romney's strengths and weaknesses.

I'll have more thoughts tomorrow. Meanwhile, tell me your thoughts about Romney's campaign and its legacy, and I'll actually read them and post some of the more interesting ones.