What went wrong? After all, Mr Romney was perhaps the only candidate who took positions pleasing all the factions of the conservative base. For security types, he promised to stay in Iraq and said that he would double the size of the prison at GuantÃ¡namo Bay. For economic conservatives, he talked of tax cuts and touted his success as a businessman (in contrast to his chief rival, John McCain). And he told social conservatives that he was against gay marriage and abortion. What was the “Reagan coalition” not to like about the man?
First was his Mormonism. Most evangelical Christians in the social-conservative base feel that Mormonism is not Christian””some even think of it as a cult. Mr Romney tried (but failed) to pacify them with a speech on faith, saying that “Jesus Christ is the son of God and the saviour of mankind”. He tripped up early in Iowa, the first caucus. He campaigned heavily and far outspent his rivals, but evangelicals instead plumped for a man they felt to be the real item: Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher. Having stumbled in Iowa, Mr Romney’s candidacy looked wobbly. He soon lost New Hampshire to Mr McCain.
He did manage to win a few primaries, for example in Michigan and Nevada. But the party would not rally to him. Some were troubled by his perceived recent rebirth to social conservatism. As the governor of Massachusetts he had been gay-friendly and pro-choice. His newfound opposition to gay marriage and abortion seemed shallow. And this seemed to reflect a more general tendency to go with the political wind. Republicans like their leaders to be steadfast. So social conservatives stuck with Mr Huckabee, who won a clutch of southern states on “Super Tuesday”. Moderate conservatives and independents joined the reinvigorated Mr McCain.