Think about Romney’s rise in light of the overheated political analysis of 2010 that saw a Republican Party as being transformed by the Tea Party legions who, in alliance with an overlapping group of social and religious conservatives, would take the party away from the establishmentarians. If I had a dollar for every time the new GOP was described in those days as “populist,” I suspect I’d have more than Romney made from his lectures.
Certainly some of the movement’s failures can be attributed to a flawed set of competitors and the split on the right, especially Paul’s ability to siphon off a significant share of the Tea Party vote. That has made a consolidation of its forces impossible. (Romney may owe Paul an appointment to the Federal Reserve.)
But there is another possibility: that the GOP never was and never can be a populist party, that the term was always being misapplied, and that enough Republicans are quite comfortable with a Harvard-educated private-equity specialist.