Mitt Romney's Swift and Graceful Exit

"We cannot allow the next president of the United States to retreat in the face of evil extremism," Mitt Romney declared as he dropped out of the 2008 Republican presidential race.

He made the announcement at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in front of a large crowd of conservative activists and supporters.

Romney cited the war in Iraq and the larger War on Terror as the reason for his withdrawal, saying that if Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama won the White House, they would "retreat" from Iraq and create a situation that would leave America open to attack. He said that the party must unite behind Senator McCain as soon as possible in order to prevent Iraq from "making Afghanistan under the Taliban look like a picnic."

"In this time of war, I feel I now have to stand aside," Romney said. "If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror."

An aide to Romney told The Corner's Byron York that the campaign didn't want to look "destructive" at the end:

Normally in that time period, I would have received lots of emails telling me, among other things, that John McCain's Straight Talk Express had taken a detour. For example, I would have expected to receive one about McCain's "calm down" remark. But nothing from the Romney camp. I wondered whether the campaign is dialing back its aggressiveness in preparation for a Romney withdrawal.

A few moments ago, I spoke to someone in the Romney camp. Would I be crazy to read that into the email traffic? "You would not be crazy to read that into it," he said. "There have been a lot of discussions going on about whether there is a path to victory, and not wanting to look destructive at what might be the end. You are reading the right thing into it."

PJ Media CEO Roger Simon thinks this may give a boost to Romney's Vice Presidential prospects.

"Ironically, this will make conservatives happy since Romney isn't really a conservative, less so than McCain."

Happy or not, the Romney campaign -- for all its superior organization and funding -- never caught on with conservatives. Coming from Massachusetts where he governed as a centrist, some of Romney's positions on core conservative issues like abortion and gay marriage came back to haunt him despite his professed "conversion" to the views of the religious right. There was also the impression among some in the party that Romney pandered to whatever his audiences wanted to hear. This gave some the impression that he had no real core beliefs and was therefore untrustworthy when it came to issues near and dear to conservative hearts.

This may have been an unfair criticism. Romney turned out to be a pretty conventional conservative on everything from the war to fiscal policy. But for some reason, he never generated the kind of excitement and support that would have given his campaign the boost it needed to propel the candidate to the top.

It is unknown how much of his own considerable fortune Romney poured in to the race. Some estimates go as high as $40 million or more. One thing is certain; he has saved himself as much as $75 million by not having to run in the general election. Romney made it known at the beginning of the race that he would spend whatever it took to make himself competitive.

Romney's withdrawal makes McCain's nomination a foregone conclusion. And while the candidate stopped short of endorsing McCain, he made it clear he would support the Arizona senator by helping to unite the party behind his candidacy.

In his speech at the CPAC conference, McCain was expected to try and build a bridge to conservatives. He can help that effort by embracing Romney and using the goodwill he has acquired by making such a graceful and magnanimous exit.

Rick Moran blogs at Right Wing Nut House.