The more “establishmentarians,” the better — if a true conservative is to win the nomination.
With a spate of stories emerging in recent days that Mitt Romney seems likely to run yet again for the presidency, the first reaction of many conservatives (myself included) is to plead for him to “just . . . go . . . away.”
Upon further reflection, and with a caveat, I’d like to say, “Run, Mitt, run!”
The reason conservatives should want Romney to run is that we need as many “establishment” types as possible to run for the Republican nomination. We need more moderates to run, and fewer electable conservatives to run, because Republican primary arithmetic favors the side of the right-center divide that produces fewer truly electable candidates.
Presidential primaries, at least for the first 15 or 20 states, usually are won not by majorities but by pluralities. And pluralities are won by having one candidate who splits an identifiable strain of voters with as few other candidates as possible — or, better yet, with none.
The “establishment” rallied behind John McCain in 2008. Romney, Fred Thompson, and Mike Huckabee all ran to his right (and with Ron Paul also taking the libertarian Right, further diluting conservative votes). McCain won less than 40 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, less than 35 percent in South Carolina, about 35 percent in Florida and Oklahoma, and less than 40 percent in Missouri (to list the most heavily contested early-ish states), but he won pluralities and thus was declared the “victor” in each. (This also meant he grabbed the bulk of the delegates in each of these states.) On the strength of those early pluralities, he grabbed the cloak of inevitability for the nomination.