It’s the day after the Republican Primary in New Hampshire and what is obvious is that Mitt Romney is the front-runner for the GOP nomination. What is not obvious is if any of these other candidates can put up a reasonable fight in any of the upcoming states. Just yesterday Ron Paul’s national spokesman urged the other candidates (not named Romney) to drop out and support Paul as the conservative alternative to Romney. Today Mitt Romney’s campaign took it a step further and argued that he (and Ron Paul) were the only “national candidates” because they are the only two names to appear on every state ballot. I would argue that both campaigns may well be right.
It is becoming patently obvious that the tired old line “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line” is slowly (as this primary season will continue to drag on) being proven true once again. For all the ire that the possibility of a Mitt Romney candidacy raises among our party’s right wing, thus far the Mittmentum continues to build. In New Hampshire Mitt was even able to score the majority of self described Tea Party voters, as well as convincing New Hampshire that he was the preferred candidate (6 of 10 primary voters said they would be satisfied with a Romney nomination)! The increasing inevitability of a Romney victory may convince some that the best path forward would be similar to what eventually took place with the Democrats in 2008 – a hotly contested two-person race that could bring out the best in the eventual winner.
The Romney camps argument that he (and Ron Paul) is the only “National Candidates” first deserves some scrutiny. What we may have lost in the hustle and bustle of the primary season is the amateurish nature of many of these candidates’ campaigns thus far. For example, observe what recently happened in Virginia, a state of immense importance in any election year – only Ron Paul and Mitt Romney met the requirements to make it on the ballots. The other campaigns of course complained but the state of Virginia had made all of the campaigns aware of the rules months in advance. There is still a chance that the candidates are all allowed on the Virginia ballot, but doesn’t the fact that they need the courts to fix the problem speak to their campaigns ineptitude? The Romney campaign does have a point however, even if the other candidates are allowed on the ballot in Virginia, they are still not on the ballot or eligible for delegates in other states! Does a candidate whose campaign can’t even get on every state ballot deserve to be the nominee? Not in my opinion.
Instead of making the “National Candidate” argument the Paul camp instead seeks the influence of the other candidates and asks them to drop out, and support him as the “anti-Romney” conservative candidate. Ron Paul is definitely anti-Romney. However, I think that the other candidates may take issue with him being the “conservative alternative” to Romney. While a strong fiscal conservative, and very much pro-life, and pro-gun ownership – many of Dr. Paul’s other plank issues are generally not considered “conservative”. The Paul campaign would argue that all of his ideas are indeed conservative, and that his goal is to restore liberty to all of the American people, it is a tough sell with many social conservatives. Also, Dr. Paul has dealt recently with the uproar over his old newsletters as well as a story that he may have entertained some 9-11 conspiracy theories. (He has repeatedly renounced and refuted both stories, and both issues have faded as a result)
Should all of the other candidates drop out? Probably not, especially since Santorum performed so well in Iowa. Some of them should though, Huntsman’s numbers look terrible everywhere not named New Hampshire and he couldn’t even win there. Perry has been a non-factor and if that continues in South Carolina, I think his time as a candidate is done. Ron Paul is an alternative to Romney, and while I may think he is a true-blue conservative, many others in the electorate do not.
South Carolina comes next, and it is a state where Rick Santorum could possibly reemerge, where Rick Perry could finally rise among the candidates, where Newt Gingrich will likely get no bounce, where Jon Huntsman will probably gather very few votes, where Ron Paul will probably not do as well as Iowa or New Hampshire, and where Mitt Romney may solidify his front-runner status. South Carolina holds many possibilities for our candidates, but only the people of South Carolina can tell us what those are.
I have been known in the past to make a few prognostications, and I think now might be the right time to offer just a few. Rick Perry will do poorly in South Carolina, coming in 4th place behind Romney, Santorum, and Paul – because of his poor performance he will drop out of the running after South Carolina. Jon Huntsman will finish dead last in South Carolina, but will not drop out until he performs abysmally in Florida. Newt Gingrich will finish in 5th in South Carolina, but continue his quixotic venture for the Presidency. Romney, Santorum, and Paul will finish first through third in that order and the national media will continue to ignore Ron Paul while seizing on Rick Santorum’s second place finish. The big story, however, will be that Mitt Romney has won in South Carolina an idea that may have seemed almost unthinkable just a few months ago. How is it possible that Mitt Romney could win South Carolina, you ask, because “…Republicans fall in line.”
There are still 34 primaries and 14 caucuses as well as a mountain of variables to sort through, and if New Hampshire’s past primary picks have anything to teach us – it’s that anything is still possible.