Matt Lewis

Do the new RNC rules hurt Republicans (or just Romney?)

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor

Over at the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin notes that the new RNC rules are to blame for Mitt Romney’s failure to wrap up the nomination — a fact which has fueled the “Republicans are unenthusiastic” narrative.

This is true, but perhaps, irrelevant.

Under the old RNC rules, Mitt Romney might well have the nomination essentially locked up by now — just as John McCain (who, it should be noted, lost the general election) was essentially the nominee at this point four years ago. This might have spared Romney some hard work, but it would have merely hidden his fundamental weakness with conservatives.

What is more, it would have deprived conservatives of the cathartic experience of airing their grievances, by creating the impression Romney was  foisted upon them — that the fix was in! — that the game was rigged by the establishment.

Hiding these concerns would not have made them magically go away. Conservatives who are now skeptical of Romney would still have been skeptical of Romney — they would have just had no release valve to express their dissent. Sure, it would have all looked better to the outside world, from a public relations standpoint. But the anger would still be there — simmering below the surface.

And it would have also deprived Romney of the yet-seized opportunity to fine-tune his message — and win over his skeptics.

As is often the case in politics, where you stand on this debate probably depends on where you sit. The conservatives who opposed McCain in 2008 (and favored Mitt Romney, instead) would probably have preferred to see the race continue. Some might even still argue Romney would have been a better opponent for Obama in the fall. (Now, the pro-Romney forces long for the good old days and the good old rules.)

Eventually, of course, there is a point of diminishing returns, whereby a prolonged primary fight would create insurmountable obstacles for the nominee. Not having a nominee until, say, September (when some states settle on Congressional nominees) provides little time to heal wounds and raise money. But the worries — at this point — seem overwrought.

I continue to find it ironic that the very people who advocate “creative destruction” in the market also seem to long for political protectionism in their primaries.