[Perry's ascent] has, by unburdening Romney of his head-of-the-pack status, released him from the tedious and timid campaign he was running. Relieved of the high expectations, Romney is free to take sides unapologetically in a battle over whether the Republican Party will reclaim its mainstream traditions or remain a protest movement.Romney, who has led in the vast majority of primary polls over the summer, has recently and summarily been replaced by Perry, who shot to the top following his recent entry into the field. Perry has strongly appealed to the Tea Party movement, but has caused some consternation among moderates and independents. His entry has also notably hurt Tea Partier Bachmann, in addition to Romney.
Whatever Perry's immediate success has been, Milbank's argument cuts to the core of the Republican primaries. Simply put, they are a battle between the moderate establishment and the far-right Tea Party. Ultimately, the GOP (particularly the far-right) is going to have to decide if it wants to select a candidate that hews the Tea Party line or choose someone that has a greater chance of wooing moderates and thus defeating Obama.
If Milbank's argument is right, Romney now is in the best position to portray himself as the only one that can beat Obama. According to Milbank, Romney has successfully began recasting himself a moderate, pro-market, Republican by presenting reasonable conservative economic solutions and announcing a mainstream team of economic advisers, while shedding the fire and brimstone of the Tea Party. When it comes down to the actual primaries, such a tactic may swing the vote in favor of Romney, who can appeal to the sensibilities of the GOP: "Select me or Obama gets four more years." The Republican base may be fired up about Tea Party candidates, but if such a candidate cannot beat Obama in a national election, he is useless.