If there are any lessons to be learned in the wake of the Republican primaries it's that non-traditional campaigning really doesn't work. The media can't be discounted, the internet doesn't make nearly as much of a difference as the hype said and the traditional process is still dominated by party loyalists and slanted media coverage. Conventional candidates win, unconventional candidates lose.
Fred Thompson tried to short circuit the traditional campaign process with the kind of small scale people first campaign that won him his Senate seat and failed to register with most voters. Despite being fairly charismatic and promoting some rather good ideas, Thompson got in the game too late and his campaign never took off.
Rudy Giuliani tried to head off the traditional primary process by aiming for the states where he was polling strongly. It seemed like a bold strategy and if New York and California pay off, that might still be the case, but after Florida that seems less likely. By taking himself out of the state by state primary grind, Giuliani also took himself out of the campaign focus and allowed McCain and Romney to be annointed as the front runners, by the time Florida rolled around, the party was treating him as an also-ran.
Ron Paul created a fanatical cult following on the internet that generated money, threats against reporters and a fantastic spamming campaign that will undoubtedly be studied by crazed fanatics and Goebbels wannabes for some time to come, but one that also proved to be as weak and ineffectual at the voting both as it did in the real life polls.
The common thread here was that non-traditional campaigns failed to bring home the prize and the original anointed candidates, Romney who was anointed by the party and McCain who was anointed by the media, are winning. It may be bad news for those who wanted a change and for those who wanted genuinely conservative politics, but the same lowest common denominator that produced Bush, may well insure that Romney becomes the next Republican president, as underwhelming as that may be.
Primaries for some time have reliably given us the triumph of the most non-objectionable candidate, which despite his many flaws is what Romney is. Romney and McCain as the front runners represents the solid victory of the establishment. In contrast to the Democratic party, where the Clinton machine is fighting Soros' MoveOn.org and Obama's stalking horses to the death, the Republican party is stably moving forward another liberal Republican, who is not fundamentally different from Bush. A few years from now, we will likely be looking at a Republican President, a Republican Congress and a general mess at home and abroad, but we won't be looking at Obama or Hillary in the White Houses and those are major pluses already.
Fred Thompson believed he could succeed by campaigning toward the people, rather than the press. Giuliani believed he could use a creative strategy to corral the primaries. Ron Paul believed a fanatical cult could hand him the election. They were all wrong because they forgot that the primaries are more about paying obeisance to the party for its pilgrimage across the primary states. It can't be controlled, only obeyed.
It's instructive to remember that the most famous maverick Republican President, Theodore Roosevelt, only became President through a series of long shots and though he was popular with the American people, the Republican party hated him so bitterly that it tore itself apart to keep him out of public office, giving rise to the Wilson Presidency and WW1.
The Republican party does not like mavericks, even as it canonizes Reagan, the party remains uncomfortable with him and his policies. The race has never been this close going into Super Tuesday, but we're still likely to see the party doing what it can to unite around Romney and keep McCain out. That is probably for the best because McCain is an unstable figure with disturbing positions on global warming and open borders. Romney is the likely candidate but there is plenty there for me to be wary of and very little to embrace.