So he hasn’t done the outreach to the conservative opinion sphere that he did last time around. That’s not speculation, it’s just a fact. His campaign this time is very different than the one he ran last time, no less professional but far less accessible. They send a blizzard of professional, impersonal emails that never really lend any sense of the man himself. He hasn’t presented himself, from the campaign’s earliest days, as the same kind of candidate he presented himself as last time. His current persona — moderate, avoid taking strong stands and avoid mistakes, play yourself off against the other candidates and allow them to play off of you as the dominant figure — is the “fix” to the “problem” that he diagnosed from the 2008 campaign.
But Romney didn’t lose in 2008 because he ran too far to the right. He lost because he wasn’t next in line (McCain was, after losing to Bush in 2000) and because he didn’t score that Crist endorsement in Florida. He can’t fix the former, except by being next in line now (which he is, and he’s factored that into his current campaign), and he probably couldn’t have done much about the latter. And there’s no Crist figure to offer such a decisive endorsement anywhere this time around. He got Christie, he got Pawlenty, he probably has more endorsements than anyone else. But he’s sinking and feeling like it’s 2008 all over again.
So I think he misdiagnosed why he lost last time, came up with the wrong fix, and is now stuck with it — and he’s started to realize that, as a succession of candidates has come and gone and now Newt Gingrich is really starting to threaten him. A man more secure in his core beliefs would probably not feel as threatened by the succession and Gingrich’s current rise as Romney does. He would reaffirm who he is and what he stands for and would find a way to regain momentum with a good ground game in the early states. But Romney can’t pull away because he can’t really get out of the paradigm he has trapped himself in, that of the aloof and inevitable nominee, the man who is next in line and the “only one who can beat Obama.” He isn’t that, he now knows it, and knows that his 2008 fix is now his 2012 problem. This chips at the core of what Romney thinks of himself, the competent corporate fix-it man.
That kind of realization would make for a pretty rough week for anyone.