Romney sticking to his "I'll outlast everybody else somehow" strategy

Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and Rick Perry have all received a little love (and by “love,” I just mean attention) at HA this weekend, so I thought I’d remind everybody of another runner by the name of Mitt Romney. For much of this primary season, he’s been the erstwhile frontrunner of a race nobody wants him to win and, every so often, I ask myself, “Why is that again?”

Then, I remember Romneycare and the oh-so-condemning ads that have already come out of the Democratic National Committee. It’s hard to make a case, as Charles Krauthammer recently so brilliantly explained, that Romney’s liberal flips are deviations from an accepted conservative core because he has no signature conservative achievements and the piece of legislation that colloquially bears his name was the blueprint for the least liked liberal legislation of at least the past century. That’s not to say Romney isn’t conservative, but just to say it’s harder to believe he’s a deep-seated conservative than a pragmatist who adapts to whatever election he wants to win at the moment.

Nevertheless, on some level, I think even conservatives within the GOP have assumed that this pragmatist would be the 2012 GOP nominee — and might even have taken some comfort in that fact. After all, as Ann Coulter has pointed out, the guy is adept at tricking liberals — and the prospect of outfoxing Obama on the campaign trail is presumably an appealing one to anybody who’s tired of the Chicago machine and the vexing way in which Obama has adapted and expanded it to fit the national scene. His questionable conservative credentials might have made him unappealing, but his presumed electability made him an acceptable eventuality.

Now, as it appears the GOP electorate might actually select Newt Gingrich as the GOP nominee and as polls show Obama would trounce the white-haired wise guy in at least the swing state of Florida, I can’t help but wonder whether more conservatives than just popular pundits are panicking just a little bit — and wishing Romney would step his game up to the slightest degree.

In case you are among the panicked few, two pieces of evidence that suggest (a) Romney does really, really want to be president but (b) still thinks it’s enough to just out-organize his opponents.

In the first place, according to data supplied by a Republican “keeping a close eye on key media markets,” Romney has spent far more on TV advertising in Iowa and New Hampshire than any of his rivals. National Journal reports:

Romney has purchased another $265,000 in television time in Iowa and New Hampshire over the next week, where his campaign is running its Right Answer ad. The vast majority of that is broadcast television in Cedar Rapids (650 gross ratings points), Des Moines (800 points), Sioux City (450 points) and on WMUR in Manchester (550 points). He also spent $13,000 on Fox News specifically in Iowa.

In the second, his team has doubled down on what The Washington Post calls “below-the-iceberg” organizational details. More from WaPo:

For Romney, a campaign built for distance, not speed, is a change from 2008, when he focused almost exclusively on the early states, thinking he had to light a fire in Iowa and keep throwing wood on it with victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

“This campaign strategy is more focused on actual delegates,” said Kevin Madden, a longtime Romney adviser. “It was built to withstand every different candidate scenario . . .with the understanding that what matters the most is having enough delegates to win the nomination.”

Madden is doing his part at home in Washington. The deadline to submit petitions to qualify for the District’s April 3 primary is Jan. 4. For several weeks, Madden and allies have been crisscrossing the city getting registered Republican voters to sign Romney’s petitions. The city requires 296 signatures, but Romney’s team, in keeping with its just-to-be-safe strategy, aims to gather a clean 600.

The Romney campaign claims the latter is evidence that Romney plans to work hard to “earn” the nomination — but, ultimately, organizational strategy is just that — strategy. In other words, it’s not necessarily the sort of “substance” that has vaulted Gingrich to the front of the line. What has catapulted Gingrich to the top is his perceived policy expertise.

At some point, especially in this debate-driven primary season, Romney will have to prove his policy chops. It shouldn’t be hard to do. As just one example, he has proposed the most substantive and arguably most conservative plan for entitlement reform of any of the candidates. But when have you heard him really hammer that home in a debate? As slick a speaker as the guy is, he still hasn’t mastered the debate distillation of his own ideas that would most help to link his name to conservative concepts. Whether he still has time to create a significantly conservative “debate meme” remains to be seen — but, in the midst of buying advertising and tightening organization, he should at least try.