Even the most disciplined candidate can't get through an entire presidential campaign without uttering at least one or two gaffes, those emblematic statements journalists will mention again and again to provide vivid illustration of his or her character defects. Few candidates are more disciplined than Mitt Romney, but the likely Republican nominee has already built up a small library of such verbal misfires, which could become the signposts of a most enlightening and overdue discussion on which we will now embark.
MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA—After 15 debates and months of campaigning, one thing is still true of the Republican presidential field: No one wants to take on Mitt Romney.
At first, during last night's South Carolina GOP debate, there were signs that Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry would remove the gloves and challenge the former Massachusetts governor. Gingrich opened his bid with a defense of his statements on Bain Capital—“I don’t think raising questions is a prerogative only of Barack Obama. … I raise questions that I think are legitimate questions.”
¡Somos Republicans!—the country's self-proclaimed largest Latino Republican group—endorsed New Gingrich today, saying that the candidate "has been working hard for many years to include American Hispanics in the overall conversation for a better America." The group also lamented Jon Huntsman's departure from the race and criticized Mitt Romney's "non-humanitarian approach" to immigration reform.
When he first got into the presidential race, I assumed Jon Huntsman was playing a long game. In the 2012, Tea Party-dominated Republican Party, a guy who had worked for the Obama administration and who, though ideologically conservative, was not inclined to treat anyone who disagreed with him as a despicable socialist demon worthy only of spittle-flecked contempt, had no chance of winning, a fact he surely must have understood. So one reasonable path was to run a respectable campaign, watch Mitt Romney lose in the general, and prepare for a strong race in 2016, when conditions would be more favorable. After all, Republicans typically have to run multiple times before they get their party's nomination.
An endorsement from a group of 150 social conservatives over the weekend should have been a huge gain for Rick Santorum's campaign. The South Carolina primary—Santorum's last real shot to block Mitt Romney's waltz to the general election—is right around the corner, and 60 percent of the Republican primary electorate in 2008 was evangelical or born-again Christians.
Stephen Colbert announced last Thursday that he would form an exploratory run for the president in South Carolina. But, much as his real counterparts acted like true candidates long before their campaigns became official, Colbert's faux presidential campaign has begun to follow the lead of the real campaigns. He appeared on ABC's Sunday show The Week yesterday, and his super PAC (now officially controlled by Jon Stewart) has released a negative ad against Mitt Romney.
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman has gotten a lot of buzz since entering the Republican presidential race last spring, but he’s never been able to translate that into votes. After months of focused campaigning in the state, he came away from the New Hampshire primary with a disappointing third-place finish. Despite this, he continued on to South Carolina in an attempt to revive his bid for the GOP nomination. But after a week of campaigning—and a lackluster reception from voters—he’s calling it quits:
Around 150 bigwigs from the social-conservative movement gathered in Texas Friday night to endorse a candidate. Organizers didn't come out and say it, but the implicit goal of the gathering was to rally around a single alternative to Mitt Romney before he rolls past the competition in South Carolina and Florida. Surrogates for each candidate—save Romney and Jon Huntsman—addressed the crowd Saturday morning before the voting took place. The field was narrowed down through a series of votes until one candidate could attain two-thirds support.
With the South Carolina primary eight days away, and Rick Perry having morphed into the Incredible Shrinking Candidate, conservative Republicans are down to two options in their quixotic quest for a non-Romney. The only problem: One has already displayed more political personalities than Sybil, and the other specializes in social issues that nobody especially cares about in 2012.
When Mitt Romney talks about his nongovernmental experience, he tends to reduce it to a simple declaration: "I understand how the economy works." He probably says this to one audience or another a dozen times a day. What he doesn't do is go into any detail about what kinds of insights this deep understanding has brought him to. After all, what he proposes on the economy is the same menu as every other Republican—lower taxes on the wealthy and investors, fewer regulations on business. If his experience in private equity has given him some profound economic wisdom, it's hard to tell what it consists of.
Santorum speaks to supporters in Greenville, South Carolina.
CHARLESTOWN, SOUTH CAROLINA—Rick Santorum’s campaign for the Republican nomination relies on stark, apocalyptic rhetoric. Barack Obama isn’t just a Democratic president passing Democratic policies; he’s a dangerous radical who seeks to bend the American people to his will and fundamentally change the country’s “values.”