Win or lose today, Mitt Romney did something in the late innings of this campaign that I didn’t expect or think possible: he became a good candidate, one that, judging from the huge and enthusiastic crowds he drew late in the race, many people decided they wanted to vote for, rather than just use as a vote against Obama (though that is a fully sufficient reason). This in the end may be the factor that puts him over the top.
One thing I noticed a while ago is that when we used to write about Romney a year or more ago on this site, there were always lots of comments from readers saying “No way I’ll vote for that RINO Romney!” There were lots of similar comments over on NRO’s Corner, too. All such comments disappeared weeks ago. Sure, there’s still reason to doubt whether we’ll get Massachusetts Mitt or a born-again Reaganite (and I’ll have extensive thoughts on that if he wins), but he showed something real starting with the debate performance in Denver. I’ll just say for now that Romney’s ideological “flexibility” might serve him well in the White House in the current closely divided political environment.
Ross Douthat put it well in his NY Times blog yesterday, in “Let Us Now Praise Mitt Romney”:
But win or lose, the Romney comeback — one great debate performance, two effective follow-ups, and a late-in-the-game transformation, amazingly enough, from the most awkward and uncomfortable-seeming of candidates to a politician that voters actually seem to like — should probably change the way we think about his trajectory as a candidate, both for the Republican nomination and then the presidency. . .
He outdebated a sitting president famous for his eloquence, and he followed up on that success with a highly effective closing pitch, coming into his own as a candidate at the moment when it mattered most.
Romney has his faults, to be sure. But he turned out to be a far superior candidate to Bob Dole or John McCain.