There is a message in the Florida GOP primary and it would be good for all candidates to listen. When the issues in the campaigns moved from experience to change and then from the war in Iraq to the economy, Mitt Romney’s campaign machine quickly adapted. Romney attacked McCain as being a "liberal" and touted his own experience in the "private sector" as making him qualified to manage the economy from the White House. Unfortunately for Romney, his strategy helped to solidify Republican moderates to McCain--and yes, they are out there. Moderates and "secular" Republicans who had flocked to the "Straight Talk Express" in 2000 had been turned off by McCain's pandering to the evangelical wing of the party and came to question his judgment because of his stubborn support for an ill-conceived war. Romney, on the other-hand, had started with a moderate reputation as a pragmatist Governor of Massachusetts and then, fighting to salvage his Christian credentials from Mike Huckabee, moved to the ideological extreme with his party. The moderate Republicans’ grew disenchanted with Romney as McCain regained his pragmatic footing when the fear of Huckabee, after his surprise victory in Iowa, drove the economic conservatives in New Hampshire to McCain. The GOP machinery then threw their support to McCain in South Carolina as the growing economic crisis made the familiar more appealing, while Huckabee and Romney battled for the evangelical vote. Entering Florida with the backdrop of the economic crisis, the Romney camp finally figured out that it was about the economy, but in a stupid way. With voters haunted by the specter of a recession, the last thing Romney should have done was to remind people of his background as a predatory capitalist.
If Romney made a mistake by bragging about his success as a venture capitalist, he made a second error by talking about McCain as a big government liberal. A slight majority Republicans who chose the economy as the most important issue picked McCain over Romney. Think about that and its implications. Romney had made an issue of McCain's background as a "Washington Insider" running massive ads burnishing that caricature of McCain while simultaneously making much ado of McCain’s opposition to the 2001 and 2003 Bush Tax cuts. Yet, according to the AP exit polling, a majority of economically fraught Republicans picked McCain over Venture Capitalist Romney.
The cautionary tale is this: people are well aware that two things are driving the U.S. Economy to the brink: capitalists--people just like Mitt Romney-- have been inflating equity, taking unearned profits and turning the mortgage market into a ponzi-scheme while the Regulators--people like the Central Bankers and the SEC --have not been doing their job.
It is a mistake to think that only liberals and Democrats are tired of being ripped off by the free-booting capitalism of the Bush era. Republicans are frustrated with thick-headed bureaucrats giving too much deference to predatory insurance companies. Republicans are worried about banking and mortgage underwriting system that has been played by speculators like the proverbial drunken sailor. Republican as well as Democratic children have been scammed by the student-loan practices of colleges that have, in effect, taken bribes from corporations who receive a non-competitive franchise to practice on their campus. And Republicans and Democrats alike are disgusted with the "disappearance" of $14 Billion in Iraq, and the mismanagement for profit of a war which, whether you agree or disagree with that War. After 8 years of George Bush, Republicans as well as Democrats yearn for a government that works.
The rejection of the telegenic Romney, with his fat wallet and private sector resume in Florida may be the harbinger of a change in the Republican tent that is as counter-revolutionary in spirit as the “revolution of Hope” being evangelized by the Obama campaign.
The Republican counter-revolution is against that which took place in the 1990s with the Contract for America and has termed out with the close of the Bush Administration. Conservatives argued that government doesn't work and for years they got themselves elected with the objective of proving themselves right. With the Bush legacy now in shambles and the economy in crisis, perhaps in 2008 the anti-government Government of the neo-Conservatives has finally lost its cachet.
I hope so.