Now that Mitt Romney has exited the presidential race, it’s safe to do a post-mortem on what went wrong. Few have offered more prescient remarks than Joshua Trevino:
In the run-up to, and aftermath of, the shocking Huckabee victory in Iowa, the Romney-aligned media responded to the overreaction within the Romney campaign itself by going nuclear against the Arkansan. This was a critical error, especially as there was some chance that Romney could have made signifiant inroads into the Huckabee base — see, for example, the Florida exits breakdown I analyzed, in which Romney actually won social conservatives in meaningful numbers.
Instead of paying respect to Huckabee and his message, Romney’s media surrogates delivered a contemptuous broadside, in effect saying: “You support an ignorant cretin, and you are yourselves rubes who like God too much — and we suspect many of you are bigots — but Mitt Romney is on your side!” Political scientists will doubtless labor for years to come trying to figure out why this didn’t work.
This “attack the frontrunner at every turn” seemed to be Romney’s main strategy. Unfortunately, his campaign was always reactive–he failed to establish himself as a candidate who was defined by innovative solutions, impressive leadership credentials, or his stalwart conservative background.
For many Huckabee supporters, the vitriol directed at their preferred candidate (and occasionally themselves) from Romney’s camp made it significantly harder for them to switch sides once Huckabee gained momentum. Political attacks tend to cause the attacked to entrench and rally around their candidate, which is exactly what happened. Romney’s camp clearly perceived Huckabee as a threat–rather than befriending him, Romney misjudged the environment and went for the jugular. And ultimately, it backfired. At the end of the day, when Romney needed Huck’s communication abilities and solid pro-life credentials, he was already on good terms with McCain. And now, it is those two standing with Mitt watching from home.