When the dust settles in New Hampshire, the 2012 Republican nomination for president will be written in granite and the name will be Willard Mitt Romney, according to the Calbuzz Advisory Board of Leading Authorities on Practically Everything, the greatest assemblage of political minds since Thorstein Veblen dined alone.
Despite New Hampshire’s reputation for sticking conventional wisdom (and the results of the Iowa caucuses) in the eye, pols from the Northeast have a habit of doing well in New Hampshire, from Henry Cabot Lodge and John F. Kennedy, to Ed Muskie, George H.W. Bush, Michael Dukakis, Paul Tsongas and John Kerry.
Of course, as you can see, they don’t always pick the nominee or the next president. And while Romney took some flack over the weekend in back-to-back debates and while he continues to argue that Barack Obama wants to turn America into a “European-style social welfare state” [insert groan here], he smartly avoided the biggest trap set for him in Manchester:
Despite repeated goading from Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, he did not lunge further to the right than he’s already gone, thereby leaving open the possibility of further waffling back toward the middle in the general election.
We agree with the Republican member of the Calbuzz Consultanate who said:
Holding steady, Mitt will graciously bounce them all. Santorum won’t break 20, but even if he does, who cares (besides a hyperventilating media)? He won’t be the nominee, unless the party decides to hang itself in the garage. Newt is reaffirming that he’s the uncle who turns nasty after a couple drinks at the family BBQ. Time to call a cab and send him home.
As for the hyperventilating media – we kept wondering where they were when we watched the ABC debate with George Stephanopoulos and Dianne Sawyer, whose feckless, dishpan questions and attention to Crankypants Ron Paul were infuriating. At least NBC’s David Gregory got the candidates to mix it up and challenge one another.
What was clear, as it has been in almost every other debate, is that Romney is the only candidate in the GOP field with the bearing and chops to be a major party candidate. Which is exactly why every member of the Calbuzz Consultanate who we called on this week, picked Romney to 1) win New Hampshire and 2) capture the GOP nomination.
Whether their precise percentages will prove on the mark, we won’t know until Tuesday night, but here’s their collective pick: Romney 40%; Paul 19%; Santorum 16%; Huntsman 14%; Gingrich 9%, Perry 2%.
In fairness, some of them commented before the debates and Jon Hunstman’s effective take-down of Romney, when he said the front-runner’s critique of Huntsman’s service as President Obama’s ambassador to China is the kind of divisiveness that’s wrong with America.
But we really don’t see what’s going to stop Romney from wrapping up the nomination sooner rather than later (although we’d love to see it drag on until California Republicans could have a crack at the field). Even the anti-Romney “documentary” about to air in South Carolina is unlikely to take him out (see below).
One of our Republican panelists offered a sliver of hope to the Anyone But Mitt (ABM) crowd:
New Hampshire could change that dynamic only if Santorum blows away Gingrich and runs a strong second, creating a national conservative leadership consensus to pressure Gingrich and Perry to drop out. But the erosion of the blue collar manufacturing base since the days of Pat Buchanan [the NH ’96 GOP winner]and some Santorum stumbles make that improbable.
Here are the comments of our Calbuzz panel:
— The Romney campaign has been virtually flawless so far (along with its related Super PAC, which disemboweled Gingrich in Iowa). The dynamics favor a Romney sweep of the early primaries, unless there is some incredible rallying behind Santorum before South Carolina. Gingrich is too proud to quit and his Super PAC is doing a big anti-Bain Capital buy in South Carolina. Perry has $4 million and is taking one last shot in South Carolina, just as Fred Thompson did in 2008, enabling John McCain to carry that state over Mitt Romney. So there will be a three-way split of the non-Romney, non-Paul vote in South Carolina.
— Santorum’s Big Mo from Iowa looks like it’s met the New Hampshire political meat grinder. Those flinty New Englanders are once again flipping the bird to the Midwestern Bible thumpers. Huntsman may come in third and Santorum in fourth. California Reeps should be relieved because God help us if Santorum is the nominee.
— Romney will win NH but it will be hard to meet the astronomical expectations. The bright lights now shining on Santorum will cause him to wilt. Remember, this is a guy that lost his own re-election campaign by 20 points. South Carolina will see the largest food fight since Belushi started one at Faber College. What does this mean? While it might not be pretty, Romney will emerge as the adult, the leader and will move strongly toward the nomination.
— The GOP nomination contest is OVER . . . Momentum carries the day in SC for Romney and then Florida and by Feb 1 “It’s a wrap.” So much for the easy part. Romney has a major challenge on his hands on how he fills from February until the convention — when the president has all the arrows in his quiver.
— Romney is on his way to crushing win in NH. No sign of weakness or erosion. Huntsman might get second. Caveat — debates in next several hours could matter. Onto South Carolina where Mitt wins and effectively secures the nomination. For all the hand-wringing about how weak a frontrunner he is, he’s about to wrap up the nomination with ease. The press narrative will be that the rest of the field was weak, which is very true. But no one else manned up. Chicago will be very bummed this ended so quickly.
— [Will Mitt come away with a crushing victory? ] No the spin will be that he should have won by more. [Will Santorum break into the 20s?] Yes [Does it matter?] Yes. [Is there anything positive in Newt’s new role as “truth teller” about Romney?] Yes — positive for everyone other than Romney.
— Despite the Suffolk tracking polls showing Ron Paul hanging in second place, Huntsman’s debate performance today and his organization in the state should squeeze him into second place, but he won’t break 20%. Romney will break 40%. Everyone else in high single or low double digits. Santorum has lost his mo since Friday and Newt, per usual, continues his murder suicide mission.
— Willard Mitt Romney will have a victory but not a crushing one. The polling shows Romney losing support and he looks headed to mid-30s or maybe less. Paul has his 20% and everyone else is scrambling with Gingrich, Santorum, and Huntsman trying to place third with double digits. Will the debate doubleheader shake things up? Romney took some incoming in the MTP debate and it could shave some more points off his lead . . . NH is always volatile. With high undecideds, a flawed bunch of candidates, and a large independent vote, Tuesday could produce some surprises. Then into the darkness known as the South Carolina Republican Primary.
— Romney has an expectations problem in New Hampshire. He has led there from the beginning, regularly in the 40s with no one else out of the teens, has a home there and was governor of neighboring Massachusetts. Winning gets him little other than a good election night party, but if he comes in with less of the vote than all the polls have reflected, it will be viewed as another sign that he is the weakest GOP front-runner in recent times.
— New Hampshire means absolutely nothing. We are weeks if not days away from Republicans falling in line with Romney. A few candidates will hang on to improve the amount that they can charge for speaking fees and book sales, but the dye is cast. I say this mostly because Obama isn’t lucky enough to draw Santorum as his Goldwater. Gingrich is an unlikeable, phony blow bag who talks down to people; Perry is becoming more desperate and scary with each passing day; Paul would only carry Orange County with his Libertarian views; Huntsman (who?) just got endorsed by the liberal Boston Globe (will Rachel Maddow be next?) and Santorum is the kind of guy who got beat up in school for being a high and mighty dork — when it was still OK to do that in public school. I mean Kerry (forgot him already?) got 250 electoral votes. Don’t you think Obama, as a sitting president, can find 21 additional votes somewhere? Obama wins comfortably.
— We used to joke about the similarities between Romney and Meg Whitman, but it is less funny now that he appears to have learned nothing at all from his good friend’s disaster in California. A wealthy takeover specialist who has trouble connecting with voters on a personal level, doesn’t move up or down much no matter what his or other campaigns do, seems to shift positions at the drop of a hat and is supported by the establishment not for any ideological reason, but mostly for perceived electability, and he’s relying on technological wizardry (see here) and overwhelming financial advantage to get him through despite a message that doesn’t resonate. Even the dishonesty of his attacks on primary opponents seems familiar. The national electorate is more conservative than California, but there should be a flood of panicked emails from California Republicans to the Romney campaign. . . Romney will win the New Hampshire primary [followed by] Paul and Santorum. Jon Huntsman will do better than expected but will still be out the race the next day, and Rick Perry will finish in the single digits.
— [Picks Romney, Santorum, Paul] I keep thinking Huntsman is going to show some movement but I’ve been wrong so far. He’s the only one who hasn’t had a surge so he’s the only possible surprise.
— [Picks Romney, Paul, Santorum, Huntsman, Gingrich, Perry] Newt melts like the wicked witch of the west – problem is he splashed the bile on himself.
— The GOP speed dating is over. The parents have foisted their candidate on the party. Since Pawlenty pulled out after the IA straw poll in the summer and Perry’s debate performances made him the punch drunk Joe Palooka of the field, there has not been a viable alternative to Romney, so this has always been a question of when, not if in terms of when he wraps this up. . . Iowa identifies the losers; NH the winners, and the Palmetto State crowns the winner. . . Mitt is going to run the table. . . The vote that will have movement in NH is with the independent voters, and some because they are contrarian, NH voters will go to Huntsman, but Romney will get his share.
— As much as I’d like to see this thing drag on, stick a fork in it — it’s over. Romney will win big in NH. He may even win SC (a recent poll found him up by double digits). Sigh. Obama’s best hope now is that the economy continues to improve and the unemployment rate continues to drop.
— I’d like to say the Granite State will live up its past of stunning the pundits and/or award victory to an unconventional candidate. But it won’t. It will be a big fat win for Mitt Romney. What’s worse, the anti-Mitt candidate won’t emerge from there either. Romney will score [more than half] the vote and it will be an Iowa-like finish for the also-rans in terms of the closeness of the finish. Huntsman might lead the pack of also-rans but won’t matter; he’s still dead man walking. Newt should outpace Santorum by a few thousand votes with Paul in that mix as well, with a similar vote haul.
— I’m a Democrat! I haven’t been to Iowa or NH this season, so following the Republican primary is just a spectator sport on TV and online. From afar, it looks like Romney, Santorum, Huntsman in NH and everyone goes on to South Carolina. Romney played the front-runner’s role beautifully, with a priority on not making mistakes (thus limited press avails) and finishing strong (solid in debates [and deploying Gov. Chris] Christie.)
HT to Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo for calling attention to the anti-Romney “documentary,” apparently funded by billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, that will make the case for South Carolina voters that Romney is a predatory capitalist job killer. You can watch the trailer from the pro-Newt Super Pac by clicking on this screen grab: