How Conservatives Failed (Includes GOP Primary Spoilers)

Howard Kurtz has a smart piece out about the sad angst of conservative pundits who have to settle for Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney! This is my favorite part:

Ingraham says that “he obviously needs to be able to answer my questions if he’s going to take on the Obama machine” and that for conservatives “it starts to feel like a classic relationship problem—we don’t understand each other.” The same could be said of Rush Limbaugh, who has played golf with the candidate but tells listeners, “Romney is not a conservative… He comes across as the prototypical rich Republican.

Funny, but I don’t think this is nearly as fragrant as the trash talked at John McCain, when he was wrapping up the nomination in 2008. (Let it never be forgotten that McCain had a much easier time, with 22 states voting at the start of February, giving nobody else the room to find more delegates.) It’s symptomatic. Conservatives simply didn’t exert the control of the process that they thought they’d earned in 2010. Two reasons:

1) The takeover in 2010 wasn’t as complete as they thought. Marco Rubio’s a good case study. He defined himself, and let the media define him, as the “Tea Party” challenger to Charlie Crist. This was easy; from the anti-stimulus, anti-Obama perspective, Crist was an abysmal candidate. But there was no deep reasoning behind this. Rubio was an establishment Florida Republican who was very smart about branding. In power, he did nothing to stop the rise of Mitt Romney; eventually he endorsed him. Jim DeMint did nothing to stop Romney, whom he’d endorsed in 2007.

2) Rick Perry ruined everything. Had Perry not jumped into the race and proceeded to amble around aimlessly hitting his head on things, the Republican primary would have cycled through candidates more quickly. Perhaps the Cain surge would have come a month earlier. Maybe Bachmann wouldn’t have lost any hope of momentum affter her successful purchased of the GOP straw poll in Ames. Maybe Rick Santorum’s surge would have come earlier, and as in 2008 the Romney campaign would have been unable to convince enough Iowans to avoid the guy they agreed with on most issues.

The Tea Party’s victories were less about individual candidates’ ideology than the narrative suggested; they were more about stopping Obama. Romney adapted as much as he needed to. The opinion-makers frittered their time away.