Why It Makes Sense for Romney to Campaign for McCain

Ah, Mitt Romney and John McCain. The former Massachusetts governor is heading to Arizona to campaign for his former presidential-primary nemesis, appearing with McCain at a town-hall meeting as the Arizona senator fends off a tough reelection challenge from AZ radio personality and Tea-Party-style conservative J.D. Hayworth.

This might appear, as it does to the Democratic Party, like a touch of hypocrisy. It wasn't too long ago that McCain and Romney were bitter campaign rivals, barely concealing contempt for one another as they fought for the GOP's White House nomination as the two leading candidates during a drawn-out campaign in 2007 and 2008, clawing to one-up each other on national security and all other issues in GOP debates. Watch this debate clip, and remember the intensity and animosity of the combat.

But it makes sense for Romney to campaign for McCain (after all, he wouldn't be doing it if it didn't--Romney and his braintrust are no dummies), and here's why.

While Romney and McCain seemed to have different views and vastly different personalities in 2008, they now find themselves having more in common than they did back then. Today, they're part of the same segment of the GOP--that is, the part that's not the Tea Party. The new wave of fiscal conservatives, fierce Obama critics, anti-federalist, and 1700s revivalists--the conservative coalition that extends beyond those who attend Tea Party meetings, self-identify with the movement, or own tri-cornered hats--holds a grudge against John McCain for being too much of a centrist. Many of them are sheepish at having voted, or even phone-banked, for him in 2008. And Romney is not their favorite, either, given the alternatives they have in Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich (who has been touring the country accusing Democrats of participating in a "secular socialist machine") and a host of minor rising stars in the GOP firmament. As it stands now, Romney isn't winning the Tea Party vote, nor is he playing for it. (Remember, too, that he campaigned for Utah Sen. Bob Bennett against Tea Party challengers, to no avail.) Romney is a candidate that crowd could accept if nominated to run against Obama, but Tea Partyism is not really his thing.

Given the polarization that's happened in the Republican Party, these Romney and McCain actually find themselves on the same side.

Romney, from all outside indications, is running for president in 2012. He has an active political action committee; he travels and raises money and supports candidates; he wrote a book and toured the country. That's about as good an indication as we can get, because it's too early for him to say, point-blank, whether he'll seek the nomination, even though he's asked in every major interview he gives.

It does not behoove Romney to have J.D. Hayworth defeat John McCain. If Hayworth wins in 2010 and becomes Arizona's senator, he will almost certainly endorse and campaign for someone else in the 2012 GOP presidential primary. Not only will this make Arizona--not the most significant of primary states--an inhospitable place for Romney, it will add a touted conservative voice to the chorus against him.

If Hayworth wins, it will make the Tea Party movement all the stronger. Hayworth will be praised as further evidence of strength of the new conservative wave--following the strong primary performances of Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater in Utah, and Sharron Angle in Nevada--and the Republican Party will keep thinking, rightly or not, that Tea Partyism is its path to power.

If McCain wins, the Arizona Senate race will end with Romney having accrued a potential favor from his former nemesis (even though McCain will probably feel pressure to endorse Palin) and dodged a bullet from the Tea Party groundswell.

So yes, the two were enemies. It is a bit odd to see them supporting each other. But after enduring the pressure and heat of the 2008 primary campaign, the two have emerged amid a new political landscape with more in common, perhaps, than not.