Is it Over?
12:45 AM, Apr 4, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
It's over: CNN estimates that Barack Obama has won enough delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination for president in 2012.
Oh—the Republicans? OK, I'll concede that contest is getting close to over as well. Mitt Romney will almost certainly be the GOP nominee. Rick Santorum is entitled to stay in the race, and to offer voters in the remaining states an alternative. But it's probably time for him to do what Mike Huckabee did in similar circumstances in 2008—basically to stop attacking the almost inevitable nominee, and instead to adjust his own message going forward to a positive and issues-based one.
For his part, Romney is entitled to savor a hard-earned victory. But not for long. He needs to begin to figure out how to win the general election. In a way, the remaining two months of primaries is a great opportunity for Romney. On the surface, he can go through the motions of finishing up the nomination campaign, using his current team and delivering his familiar message. It will look like business as usual. But beneath the surface, Romney should be quietly but purposefully developing a new and much improved business plan for the fall. Absent adjustment, Romney's effort to unseat the incumbent president now feels destined to recapitulate the losing efforts of Bob Dole in 1996 or John Kerry in 2004. But the good news is that Romney is cold-blooded and hardheaded. He didn't put himself through all this to run a respectable losing general election race. He may be more willing and able than most politicians to change his team, to challenge conventional thinking, and to invite fresh ideas for the conduct and strategy of his fall campaign.
Romney is fifteen years older than President Obama. But to defeat the incumbent, Romney will need to appear bolder, more forward-looking, in a sense the more youthful alternative. He might want to reread Machiavelli: "It is better to be impetuous than cautious, because fortune is a woman. ... And one sees that she lets herself be won more by the impetuous than by those who proceed coldly. And so always, like a woman, she is the friend of the young, because they are less cautious, more ferocious, and command her with more audacity." I like the odds of ferocity and audacity against warmed-over hope and change.
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