Mitt Romney is in the driver's seat. He controls his destiny, but in the next few weeks he has a lot to do to cement his position.
He needs to do at least four things simultaneously. In some ways, the campaign is now going to become harder for him, not easier.
First, he must tend to the primaries and caucuses still in front of him and not become distracted or get blindsided. He is only one Swiss bank account away from a fresh, serious wound.
Second, start now to keep a conservative third-party candidate from deciding to enter the general election. President Obama can wait. Focus attention on the Tea Party and conservatives. The campaign needs more new ideas and concentrated outreach to the right-wing. Ann Romney was on to something when she was promoting Romney as a true conservative. She is credible. Use her as a surrogate with pro-family and conservative groups. If you have peace with the Tea Party, it will be easier for other GOP candidates facing election in 2012 to embrace you.
Third, get party leaders on board, particularly governors and other elected officials. The endorsements won’t drive votes, but they will help raise money and further add to the inevitability aura.
Fourth, develop a new, fresh, big economic idea to offer voters and announce it in the spring. I fear a general-election debate where we simply claim that Romney will manage the economy better than Obama without telling voters what that really means. If Obama is saying that things are getting better, and Romney only has a slogan-filled, tired plan that we claim will be slightly better than Obama’s, Romney will lose. I’m for a 5 percent growth target and for educating the voters on how to get there and what the U.S. economy would look like if that were achieved during the next president’s first term.
All of this will be made harder by the applause, accolades and celebratory coverage the Romney campaign will receive in the next month or so. It is hard to think clearly when everyone is telling you you’re brilliant.