Life must be good at the Obama campaign's Chicago headquarters these days. They can sit back and idly watch as Republicans do their job for them. This is around the time that a presidential reelection campaign would begin zeroing in on the best strategy to use against their general election opponent, but the GOP field has already settled on the narrative against frontrunner Mitt Romney. Instead of a primary defined by Romney's dreaded authorship of Massachusetts's health mandate or his wavering stance on abortion, Romney's opponents have unloaded on his "vulture capitalism" and glee at handing out pink slips.
Newt Gingrich has staked out a string of positions over the course of the campaign that should be enough to disqualify him from holding the nation's top political office. Gingrich can't grasp the concept of separation of powers and believes the president should overrule court decisions he dislikes willy-nilly. He's in favor of child labor and peppers his speeches with race-baiting language. About the only thing Gingrich gets right is his desire to reinvest in space research.
But this statement might resonate with voters more than any of those disqualifiers:
The Republican Party of Iowa released their final tally of a meaningless number today. According to the certified totals of Iowa caucus votes, Rick Santorum in fact finished ahead of Mitt Romney by 34 votes. But there's a catch: the party is missing results from eight precincts that cannot be certified. There is no way to ascertain if those votes would have given Romney the lead. Still, by any measure, that 34-vote Santorum edge counts as an essential tie.
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.
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.
I normally try my best to ignore the latest Blair Witch film sting from conservative provocateur James O'Keefe, he of ACORN and Planned Parenthood fame. But O'Keefe's new gotcha video unfortunately dips its toes into my beat, so I'll briefly grant him some of the media attention he craves.
For fans of the horse race, this presidential election comes up a little short. The remaining contests are worth watching to see how the Republican Party's competing factions reconcile the fact that they must put aside their differences and support Romney if they hope to defeat Barack Obama, but any semblance of drama disappeared once Romney won the first two nominating states. He now leads the polls in the upcoming primary states.
Cable-news pundits rejoiced a week ago when Rick Santorum drew Mitt Romney into an essential tie for first place in the Iowa caucuses. For all the ups and downs throughout the fall, this election has been inherently boring. Until Iowa, Romney had inched along unremarkably to the general election while a rotating group of talking heads ran nominal presidential campaigns in order to boost their fees on the lecture circuit.
Nashua, New Hampshire—Mitt Romney is the sort-of acceptable man in this year’s Republican field. His strong victory here yesterday was rooted in his support from all quadrants of the Republican Party. He carried 40 percent of the voters who told exit pollsters that they supported the Tea Party movement, a far higher percentage than anyone else in the field. (Ron Paul finished second with 22 percent of Tea Partiers.) Romney also led the field among voters who said they were neutral toward the Tea Party. Only among voters who said they opposed the Tea Party—and that was just 17 percent of yesterday’s Republican electorate—did he come in second, to Jon Huntsman.
Yesterday, I speculated that the traditional dynamic of the early states weeding out the also-ran candidates could be upended this cycle by the increased reliance on debates and super PACs. Last night, Mitt Romney won a resounding victory, yet no candidates are rushing to exit stage left this morning. In fact, all have packed up their bags to head south, either to South Carolina or Florida.
Manchester, New Hampshire—This year’s Republican primaries look increasingly less like a battle and more like a mopping-up action after the fight. The dominant fact of the 2012 GOP contest is the complete absence of plausible alternatives to Mitt Romney. When those plausible alternatives either failed to show up (Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie—though Christie’s manner is probably too thuggish to achieve genuine plausibility) or showed up and turned instantly implausible (Rick Perry), the contest was over even before it began. Ron Paul? Jon Huntsman? Rick Santorum? Newt? Compared to the rest of the field, Romney looks like a giant—which is why the turnout in tonight’s primary and last week’s caucuses was altogether underwhelming.
Mitt Romney's march to the GOP nomination became even more likely last night after he thumped everybody else in the New Hampshire primary. Now the guesswork turns to South Carolina with the campaign press cadre picking up their bags and hopping on the next flights to Charleston and Columbia. But the bigger prize comes later in the month when Florida's 50 delegates are doled out.