One of the most important things a pol can do is to learn from mistakes.
The key reason why John McCain managed to win the nomination was the division among those who opposed him. McCain was clearly one of the least popular candidates among conservatives but the division of the conservative vote allowed John McCain to win with small relative percentages of the GOP vote.
Whatever Mitt’s faults on the leadership front on the brains and strategy front he is certainly first rate. I suspect he identified early the dynamics that would hurt him most:
1. Sarah Palin is the single biggest threat to his nomination in terms of a candidate
2. Romneycare is the biggest threat in terms of a policy
3. There are still plenty of people who consider Mormonism a cult who would vote against him in primary states
He also identified one huge benefit:
The establishment GOP hates and fears any Palin-like candidate and likes him.
So how do you manage to use these facts in your favor? Easy:
1. Use the MSM to neutralize Palin: Romney knows that he will need Palin supporters to defeat Obama in 2012, thus he can’t attack Palin directly thus he has used GOP proxies who are ostensibly not connected to him to do so. The media who hates Palin even more than GOP insiders are happy and thrilled to promote them any chance they get. Thus you get the narratives concerning Palin established while not dirtying your hands. The best example is the silence on her India trip while her mispronouncing of “skirmish” was news.
2. Support the Ringers: One of the oldest tactics in politics is to run a “ringer” to siphon off votes from an opponent. Right now if you look at the people running or “exploring” running you see quite a few strongly conservative folks. Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann, Newt, perhaps Huckabee, Haley Barbour and of course possibly Palin. All are popular with tea party people, evangelicals and social conservatives. For Mitt Romney to win the nomination that strongly conservative tea party vote needs to be divided. With enough strong conservatives in the race the primary vote will be divided. There is always a danger that one of these people will “break out” (Herman Cain in particular is a danger to do so as I’ve not found a conservative or tea party person who dislikes him) and become a really big threat, but as long as that doesn’t happen it’s in Romney’s interest to keep the smaller or regional candidates in the game since very few of the votes they will siphon off would be from him
Expect Romney’s biggest donors to be approached to help fund any candidate that he thinks will drain votes early in the primaries. Once that happens and the damage is done, or if any of them get enough momentum to become a threat the spigots will be turned off.
As far as I can see this is the path to the nomination for Mitt since he certainly isn’t busy hitting the administration on its policies. Of course the nomination won’t be enough, he has to actually win the general, so when all is said and done he will have to copy McCain in one other way, picking a strong conservative as a running mate to keep the tea party and conservative wing from leaving in disgust.