Outside editorial: Romney bowed out gracelessly

Posted: Sunday, February 10, 2008

It would have been better for the nation if Mitt Romney had said he just wanted to spend more time with his family.

Instead, the former Massachusetts governor, in dropping his bid for the Republican presidential nomination Thursday, insulted the patriotism of most of the American electorate - and its intelligence as well.

In his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Mr. Romney said he was stepping aside because, "I simply cannot let my campaign be part of aiding a surrender to terror."

Both of the candidates for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, Romney said, "have made their intentions clear regarding Iraq and the war on terror: They would retreat, declare defeat." For him to continue campaigning, he said, would "forestall the launch of a national campaign, and frankly, I'd make it easier for Sen. Clinton or Obama to win."

Even by today's debased standards of political discourse, this borders on slander. Most Americans in both political parties have rejected President George W. Bush's attempt to conflate the war in Iraq with the war on terrorism. Romney is bright enough to know the connection is dubious, but his comments suggest he's craven enough to use it to curry favor with the party's extreme right - just in case he wants to try again in 2012.

Yet it is exactly this sort of transparent, say-anything political opportunism that characterized and, ultimately, torpedoed Romney's campaign. Time and again, he espoused positions that conflicted with views he had expressed previously - on abortion, gay rights, stem cell research, immigration and health care reform. Those flip-flops, more than his Mormon faith, caused evangelical Christians in the GOP to be wary of him.

At the same time, they found an affable long-shot option in former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee who, as early as the Iowa caucus, began siphoning conservative votes from Mr. Romney. The result was the resurrection of Arizona Sen. John McCain's campaign and a badly fractured Republican Party.

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