Following his 15-point victory in the New Hampshire primary, some in the media have hailed Mitt Romney as the new GOP superman. Romney won the Granite State with 38 percent of the vote, followed by Ron Paul at 23 percent, and Jon Huntsman at just below 17 percent. Everyone else finished in single digits.
Romney was governor of neighboring Massachusetts for four years. New Hampshire residents get most of their media from Boston. Romney winning in New Hampshire was inevitable. Romney’s share of the vote, while impressive, is roughly the same as John Kerry’s in 2004 and John McCain’s in 2008. As with his showing in Iowa, his results barely nudged above the 32 percent he won four years ago. His win was no more monumental than that of Kerry’s in ’04, Paul Tsongas in 1992, or Dick Gephardt’s 1988 victory in the Iowa caucuses.
The Romney-Huntsman juggernaut made the New Hampshire primary the high water mark of the RINO insurgency. (This is, after all, the state that favored John McCain over George W. Bush in 2000. ) But it no more cements Romney as the party’s inevitable leader than it establishes Huntsman as a viable presidential candidate.
Some have pointed out that Mitt is executing the strategy he designed to win the GOP nomination four years ago: win the first several primaries, then crest to the nomination on the waves of pure momentum. But several developments make the comparison inapplicable. Simply put, 2012 is not 2008. Four years ago, the anointed frontrunners for the nomination were John Sidney McCain and Rudy Giuliani. Romney was well to their Right. Conservatives had invested much of their time and energy defending George W. Bush’s foreign policy, the one area McCain appealed to them. (The other was his opposition to Congressional earmarks.) Although disgusted by Bush’s free-spending ways and perpetual pushes for amnesty, no organized TEA Party movement existed to steer the party toward its small-government roots.
Today, none of these things holds true.
No serious candidate can be found to Romney’s Left. Huntsman reached 17 percent of a primary open to independents — and often Democrats — only after all-but-living in the state. His showing makes him the presumptive presidential nominee…of the Americans Elect Party. Repealing ObamaCare is the cause most dear to Republican voters, and it is one on which Mitt Romney will never earn their trust. The TEA Party has bounced one big government Republican after another and is gearing up for another round of nationwide scalp-taking in Indiana, Utah, and all points Left.
But can it prevent the Republican Establishment from dictating its presidential nominee?
As in 1996 and 2008, conservatives cannot coalesce around an alternative. The field offered such choices as Pat Buchanan, Bob Dornan, Alan Keyes, Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter, Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson, Steve Forbes, and Jim Gilmore. This year, too, there are candidates who would motivate the party far more than Mitt Romney — but the set seems crippled by conservative deference, indecision, and misdirection. Michele Bachmann “could not win,” because she made too many “gaffes” — although many of these supposed errors were media distortions and inventions designed to sabotage her candidacy. Conservatives do themselves no favors internalizing the lies of the liberal media.
What happens next? South Carolina could determine the survival of several candidates, but it could also blur the nomination picture and intensify the confusion. After a Santorum “loss” (or victory?) in Iowa, a predictable Romney win in New Hampshire, a Santorum win would solidify him as the anti-Romney. But what if Newt Gingrich narrowly wins in South Carolina, his own neighboring state and one where he held the lead until last month? What if Rick Perry, who is staking his candidacy on the state, miraculously rejuvenates his campaign? It begins to look like 1996 all over again, with Dole narrowly winning in Iowa, Buchanan winning New Hampshire, and Steve Forbes coming in first in Arizona.
If all non-Romneys fall aside, will Ron Paul (who has finished a strong second in both states so far) be the last man standing?
Conservatives would do well to make their choice and stick to it ASAP.
– Ben Johnson, The White House Watch.