Marc Holtzman had a chance to run a campaign of ideas, as he said, and that in order to get taken seriously, he believed he had to play tougher than I would have, or than I thought was necessary. Trying to paint Bob Beauprez as a liberal in Republican clothing was always a mistake.
(That Beauprez's campaign, and some 527s supposedly on his side, have responded by making banking sound like a crime and trying to play guilt-by-association, rather than winning by taking the high road, is well beside the point. Bob Beauprez is no liberal. Could a softie on immigration get Tom Tancredo's endorsement? Really. And now, by standing up to the purple-tie-wearing Owens on the issue of the Ref C overage, Beauprez is showing some of the real spine he'll need to win the general and to govern effectively.)
There was a case to be made - that Beauprez, by blessing Ref C with faint condemnation, by backing Roy Blunt in the first round of the House leadership contest, by taking full advantage of earmarks and pork, is more like Romney than Reagan. It might not have stuck, but there was a case there.
In the process of making that case, Holtzman could have done what he did manage to do - force the Beauprez camp to talk about issues they'd rather have avoided. And he could have done so far less destructively than he has.
Let's leave aside the process issues for the moment. I do think it's poor form to make a big deal of the Assembly, and then, after having the argument in the press, insult the delegates and claim the process was meaningless and rigged against you. ("No, my dog didn't bite you, and anyway, that's not my dog.") Holtzman has had six months to make his case to the party activists, and he couldn't pull 30% in a two-man race. I do not see any reason to think he can win a primary that, if anything, is weighted more heavily to the regulars than the caucus process is. Remember, activists scare the regulars a little bit.
What they don't understand is that when a man is running against a party establishment, and is in it this deep, there's almost nothing that that establishment can do or say that's persuasive to him. He needs to hear it from close friends and people who've been with him the whole way, not people who were suspicious of him from the start. (This means close friends, not Jewish bloggers who've been sympathetic to the idea of his candidacy.) Ending a campaign before every last option is played out is tremendously difficult; it feels like a personal failure, compounded by a personal failure of nerve.
But if Marc Holtzman wants to play Ronald Reagan's role in 1976, to introduce conservative ideas back into the party discourse, and to be a player in 2010, he should step aside, salvage the many relationships he has within the party, and do the hard work of organizing conservatives within the party over the next four years. Those people exist, and they're hungry for a legislative majority and a Republican governor.
Coming to them as the spoiler who cost them both is a complete non-starter.
Coming to them as a guy who can offer them ideas, hard work, and a pipeline to conservative voters is another matter altogether.