Mitt Romney’s victory in New Hampshire was every bit as significant as it appeared. History is now on Romney’s side: Every candidate who has won the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary has captured his party’s presidential nomination.
So Romney goes into South Carolina for its January 21 primary as a strong frontrunner. Sure, the Republican race isn’t over. But where’s the conservative “alternative” to Romney who seemed likely to emerge in New Hampshire? A credible challenger to Romney in a two-candidate race doesn’t exist. And you can’t beat somebody with nobody.
OK, there’s Ron Paul, who finished second in New Hampshire with what was for him an impressive quarter of the vote. But that’s probably going to be Paul’s high watermark. And, besides, Ron Paul’s chances of winning the GOP presidential nomination are approximately nil. Forget Paul.
The candidate who almost beat Romney in Iowa, Rick Santorum, tanked in New Hampshire. He battled Newt Gingrich for fourth. If Santorum were to become Romney’s chief conservative rival, it should have happened in New Hampshire. It didn’t.
What about Gingrich? He got the endorsement of the New Hampshire Union Leader. That turned out to be worthless. Gingrich has the money for a full-blown campaign in South Carolina. However, he’s alienated many Republicans with his vehement attacks—from the left—on Romney as a job-killing capitalist when he headed Bain Capital.
Jon Huntsman concentrated solely on New Hampshire, wound up third, and acted like his campaign in the state had been wildly successful. “I’d say third place is a ticket to ride,” he insisted at his post-election rally. Unfortunately for him, it’s a ticket to presidential oblivion. There’s no reason to take him seriously. He peaked in New Hampshire.
Things just couldn’t have worked out any better for Romney in New Hampshire. He devoted his victory speech to criticizing President Obama, taking only a passing shot at “desperate” Republicans who have tried to make his Bain background a major issue. They include Rick Perry and Huntsman in addition to Gingrich.
South Carolina is probably the last chance for Romney to be deterred or at least stalled in his race for the nomination. Gingrich is expected to spend millions there on TV ads targeting Romney as a predatory capitalist rather than a venture capitalist.
However, Gingrich concentrated on President Obama in his comments after the election. He said that in South Carolina and in Florida, with its January 31 primary, he would “create a majority that will shock the country.” He’s right. If a Gingrich majority emerges, the country will indeed be shocked.