Donald Lambro

McCain is attempting to mend fences with his conservative critics, a daunting challenge to say the least. He has been a party maverick since day one, and did not show good judgment when he first ran in 2000, attacking one conservative leader after another and wondering in the end why he lost.

One of rules in presidential campaign politics is to first nail down your party's base and then make overtures out to the broader electorate. McCain is doing it in reverse; he first reached out to independents and Democrats and is now desperately trying to nail down his base in preparation for the general-election campaign ahead.

In the thick of presidential primary battles, party tempers rage and flare, passions get red hot, and no doubt there are those conservatives who will never vote for McCain if he is the nominee. But even among the conservative talk show leaders, I'm told that in the end, despite all of their differences with the Arizona senator, most of them would support him against either Clinton or Obama. I suspect that will be true of many of his critics in the party's base.

Meanwhile, I think we can safely say that we haven't seen the last of Mitt Romney. Like the smart venture capitalist that he is, he no doubt has long-range goals in mind.

Reagan came within an eyelash of wresting the nomination from Ford, but that set the stage for his dramatic comeback four years later -- better known, with more support and a party that was ready and willing to say, "Now it's your turn."

For my money, I don't see a presidential future for Huckabee who has been running, in part, on replacing the income tax with a 23 percent sales tax on everything we buy, on top of the sales taxes we already pay. But I think Romney will likely run again, now that he has built name recognition and support in the party for his talents as a leader who, unlike McCain, doesn't need on-the-job training in economics.

"I'm going to be honest. I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign-policy issues. I still need to be educated," the senator told Wall Street Journal editor Stephen Moore.

If McCain is the nominee, he may need Romney by his side to tell him how to get the American economy back on track again.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.