Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee for 2012. His three-jurisdiction victory on Tuesday night was the end of the road for Rick Santorum, his last real challenger.
Santorum might well stay in the race, as have Ron Paul (who has a message) and Newt Gingrich (who does not), but his quixotic campaign is now reduced to tilting at windmills in his home state of Pennsylvania, plus the southern states still on the calendar. None of them is likely to help him materially close the delegate gap, which now stands at approximately 655 for Romney and 272 for Santorum.
Still, Romney is not yet at the magic 1,144 delegates and so must continue to campaign—protecting his right flank against his previous opponents’ supporters and newly focused attacks from President Obama at the same time.
Gasoline prices, unemployment statistics, and economic data are not easily controlled by a president and are completely out of the control of a challenger, but as those numbers continue to roll in over the next six months, Romney’s messaging team will be looking for ways to make Obama responsible without seeming to be rooting for bad numbers.
While all that is going on, Romney can and should begin to consolidate support among conservatives as we move through the spring and into summer. He should not wait until the GOP convention in August to do this. Here are a few suggestions that he can act upon—beginning now.
1. Fundraise for Candidates in Debt and for the RNC
All of the candidates not named “Mitt” will end up with debt—with the possible exception of the candidates named “Ron Paul.” Someone from the Romney staff should be assigned to do what Romney did for Tim Pawlenty: do whatever is reasonable to help them retire their debts.
The good news is, these are all primary debts, so the Romney campaign is not putting its general-election fundraising at risk. He might not be able to retire every dime, but he can certainly help.
Romney should also commit to do X number of events to raise money for the Republican National Committee, much as President Obama has done for the Democratic National Committee. Then he should reach out to the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and commit to a certain number of activities to raise money for their targeted races.
2. Forge Ties in the House and Senate
In addition to fundraisers, Romney needs to work with House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to begin to build relationships with the GOP House and Senate conferences.
Attending a Senate policy lunch one Tuesday a month will go a long way toward showing GOP senators he is serious about working with them. A Wednesday morning conference with House Republicans will serve the same purpose.
3. Appoint Convention Managers
Quickly name the Romney Republican National Convention managers and have them reach out to the people who need to be made whole with speaking roles, excellent housing, sky suites, and all the other items that no one ever talks about—and indeed would deny any interest in—but can be a game changer inside the tent.
4. Court Conservatives, Particularly Armey
The easiest way to handle GOP conservatives is to have private meetings with the House and Senate policy committees, typically the keepers of the flame in Congress.
In addition, Romney should reach out to people like Dick Armey who proclaim leadership roles in the Tea Party movement. It doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not, having people like Armey at least neutralized, if not picking up a trombone to play in the marching band, can pay huge dividends between now and November.
5. Hold Regular Meetings With Conservative Press
Nothing makes for better relations than small, private, off-the-record meetings—lunches or dinners are even better—with selected members of the press corps. To curry favor with conservatives, Romney should schedule regular (but not too frequent) roundtables with conservative writers and commentators to get them comfortable in defending him against Obama.
Everyone from Rush Limbaugh to groups of regional conservative bloggers should be included in this process.