Neither party in any shape to advance cause of liberty

He talked about wanting to do what was best for the party and for the country and at some level he was no doubt quite sincere.

But last week, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney acted like the businessman he was while amassing the fortune that made it possible for him to play politics, and decided to cut his losses.

He had already spent at least $35 million of his own money, and the chance of catching and displacing Sen. John McCain might have been greater than zero, but not much.

There was little chance that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, propelled by religious support and ego, was going to drop out. So the two former governors, neither of whom looked much like conservatives before they started running, would have kept on splitting the conservative GOP vote, smoothing Arizona Sen. John McCain’s path.

It is both obvious and a little mysterious why Romney never quite got enough Republican voters to warm up to him. There were the shifts in position from his previous campaigns and his time as governor on issues like abortion, gay rights and immigration, of course.

While it shouldn’t have made any difference, his Mormon faith no doubt was a factor. And there was the sense that he was just a little too buttoned-down, a little too modulated, almost a little too — well, perfect.

Perhaps if he had tousled his hair and loosened his tie and showed a little more warmth and humor? He might apply these lessons in 2012, which this graceful exit at this time could facilitate.

Based on crowd reaction, attendees at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, at which Romney’s exit speech took place, are ready to put past and present differences to the side and embrace Sen. McCain — not that they have much choice now unless they decide improbably to rally around Ron Paul.

McCain, during a speech at the same conference, wooed them skillfully, acknowledging differences and invoking Ronald Reagan.

McCain’s best applause lines came when he expressed his unstinting support for waging war and his enlistment in the enforcement-first ranks on immigration, a troubling signal for us. It seems that time in power and in close proximity to power has brought out the mean-spiritedness and a desire to punish in all too many American conservatives, as it does with most people.

If Republicans focus on hostility to immigrants and foreigners, and Democrats focus on hostility to capitalism and success, don’t expect the political process this year to advance the cause of liberty.