A few moments ago, West Virginia announced that Huckabee had won its caucus, thus adding 18 delegates to his pool. This was the first Super Tuesday win, so the news raced around the nation quickly. West Virginia holds a caucus instead of a traditional primary, and the state awards all of its delegates to the caucus leader.
The details of this win are neither clean nor simple. Mitt Romney was the leader throughout the day. Throughout the past week, his campaign told West Virginians that McCain's support for environmentalism would severely damage the coal industry. This information is useful in a state like West Virginia whose lifeblood is coal, so Romney was correct in warning the voters.
Romney's statements did not attack McCain personally, nor were they misleading. As the word spread, Romney surged ahead in both the polls and today's early voting.
Here's where the chicanery begins. After the first ballot ended earlier this morning, McCain saw that he had no chance. The first ballot results were: McCain had 176 votes, Huckabee had 375 and Romney had 464.
Rather than graciously nod and move on, McCain decided to pick up the phone to Huckabee's camp. McCain's campaign staff urged their followers to vote for Huckabee so that the two of them combined (McCain and Huckabee) would have more votes than Romney's near-half. By the end of the second ballot, Huckabee had edged into first place when Romney should have won the entire thing.
Everyone knows that Governor Huckabee has no chance of winning the primary (except Huckabee it would appear). And John McCain sees Huckabee as he truly is - a massive roadblock to Romney.
Ask yourself: if Huckabee were not in the race, who would his supporters favor? His supporters are mostly Evangelical Christians who hate taxes and illegal immigration. In fact, they are so anti-illegal-immigration that Huckabee completely switched sides and endorsed building The Fence which he had previously rejected. That's how much he wants to keep the Evangelical vote.
Bill Kristol, of the Weekly Standard, said last week on Fox News, "Huckabee is the most practically-effective endorser of McCain in the entire country." His point was that Romney would be thoroughly trouncing McCain if Huckabee wasn't in the way. He went on to say that McCain wouldn't have even won New Hampshire had Huckabee not been in the race.
Giuliani was supposed to be the balancing act for McCain, and vice versa. But now that he's out, who splits McCain's vote?
This West Virginia campaign-loading is textbook collusion if ever it existed. Of course, such a claim, regardless of its legitimacy, is meaningless in politics.
Concepts like "Swift-boating" or "push polling" are now routine with elections and the very reason the electorate has called for "change" at a thunderous volume. We can only expect that "change" in the process will not come because campaigns are about winning; and each candidate will inevitably do whatever they can to maximize their total vote.
In response to the West Virginia win, Romney's national campaign manager Beth Myers said, "Unfortunately, this is what Senator McCain's inside Washington ways look like." I could not agree more.
When it comes to John McCain, this is nothing new. He reached around the conservative coalition to embrace liberal policies on education, campaign finance, immigration and more. That his campaign is now knifing other conservatives is no surprise.
The more profound impact here is what this demonstrates to the GOP at large.
On HotAir.com, Bryan Preston submits a very interesting theory called the "Romney Paradox". In a nutshell, he posits that Americans inherently feel uncomfortable with electing businessmen because of a natural inclination to military and political types.
In other words, we're okay with promoting generals and governors to be President. And sometimes we're fine with senators and congressmen too. But there is something troubling about moving Wall Street guys onto Capitol Hill.
Of course, Romney has been a governor so he should fit the bill, but most Americans see him as a businessman first on the national level. His shiny shoes, glossy hair, quick replies, and the number of jobs he's created help reinforce that impression.
Preston also points out the religious contradictions that traditional conservatives feel. We're a Protestant crowd and so promoting a Mormon feels all wrong. Of course, no one mentions that Mormons have historically been more socially conservative than Protestants; and certainly they are now.
The other part of the Romney Paradox is his stances on abortion and gun control, positions that he has had to realign since stepping outside of Massachusetts. I agree with Preston that Romney's current positions are his original ones since he held them before he campaigned in Massachusetts; he obviously needed to be a Roman to get anywhere with the New England blue-bloods.
As a side note, why aren't independents and center-conservatives talking about Romney's win in Massachusetts? One of the biggest reasons centrists have gone strongly for McCain is that he is seen as someone who can defeat Hillary Clinton. Yet, McCain has never personally campaigned against a hard-core liberal. Arizona is as red as a radish. If anyone can win against the Democratic machine, it's Romney.
Over the past year, pundits like Pat Buchanan and Newt Gingrich have preached about the GOP's deep issue of needing to define itself. Newt has opted to try and fix the issue; Pat has elected to accentuate the problem and thus get another attempt at building a viable third party. Both are right in their own way.
The most important question is this: will the GOP focus on growing itself by continuing to move to the left or will it redefine itself by the views of its base? Will it embrace centrists or be content with losing the next few elections?
For any true conservative, values are more important than the party at large. Parties come and go; values stay forever. Sadly, like any business or bureaucracy, it is much more likely that the GOP will opt to grow. But what does that mean?
Political parties are like bodies. They must have mass and they must have a heart. The bigger the mass, the more elections the party wins, but the heart drives the mass.
Practically speaking, the heart is the core group of supporters that passionately rally around the party, writing checks and donating time as often as they can. Hearts can be weak, and hearts can be strong. Generally, the heart beats in step with the resonance of the party's values. If the party waters down its values, the heart beats a little weaker.
Consider the movement on the left throughout the past decade. MoveOn.org has contributed so much money and time to the Democratic Party that they now eagerly claim that they "own the party". It's their party - "bought and paid for". That only happened because Democratic politicians re-aligned their values with MoveOn.org's base; or, to put it another way, they re-aligned their heart.
In 2006, it was clear early on that the Democrats body had both more mass and a stronger heart than the Republicans did. Most polls still show that the Democrats have more mass for 2008 - they should win the election.
The GOP now faces a major choice. It can trade heart for mass and stuff down all the centrists that will fit; or it can settle down, understand what it is and what it represents, and try to take the White House the old fashioned way - by offering conservative solutions.