The Plank

Trying To Make Sense Of The Gop

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Well, at least one thing went well for Mitt Romney tonight.
When he came out to give his concession speech, there was no podium, so he kept
his prepared remarks in his pocket and delivered a somewhat rushed but
generally effectiveand even fairly upbeatpitch for his candidacy.

 

Compare that with John McCain. Having achieved a remarkable
comeback and seemingly put himself right back in the thick of the GOP race,
McCainwhose New Hampshire events typically feature him pacing around a stage
and speaking extemporaneouslystood stiffly behind a podium and basically just
read a speech that, while very good and even stirring on paper, was, by dint of
McCain’s stilted delivery, a real clunker. If this was McCain’s chance to
reintroduce himself to America,
he blew it.

 

So where do the Republicans go from here? The strangest part
of McCain’s victory in New Hampshirecoming
on the heels of Mike Huckabee’s victory in Iowais
that, in theory at least, it’s exactly what Rudy Giuliani was hoping for. With
the GOP race still wide open, suddenly Rudy’s February 5 strategy doesn’t seem
so farfetched. Except, of course, it is. If Rudy’s fourth place finish in New
Hampshirea mere one point ahead of Ron Paul--doesn’t spell the end for his
candidacy, then the fact that he’s currently in fourth place in the polls in
Floridawhich is supposed to be the lynchpin of his February 5 strategyalmost
certainly does. Count out Fred Thompson (with a whopping 1 percent of the vote in New Hampshire),
too, and we basically have a three-person GOP race: Huckabee, McCain, and
Romney.

 

Let’s start with the longest shot of those three: Huckabee,
who finished a surprising third in New Hampshire.
He’ll likely pay little attention to Michigan
and instead focus on South Carolina.
But, while a Southern state with a large number of evangelical voters would
seem to be friendly turf for Huckabee, the South Carolina GOP establishment often
decides the winner of the primary there. And Huckabee isn’t the favorite of any
establishment typeseven in South Carolina.

 

Oddly enough, the South Carolina Republican establishment’s favored
candidate in ’08 is John McCainthe very candidate that establishment torpedoed
on behalf of George W. Bush in 2000. When McCain was the frontrunner, he racked
up a lot of endorsements in South Carolina,
and he managed to hold onto them even after his campaign imploded. Now that he’s
back, those South Carolina endorsements
are going to come in handy. Of course, before South
Carolina, McCain will go to Michigan,
where he and Romney will pick up where they left off in New
Hampshire.

 

Which brings us to Romney. Romney’s entire campaign strategy
revolved around winning Iowa and New
Hampshire. But even though he failed to do that, the
fact that two candidates with potentially fatal flaws split those two contestsnot
to mention Romney’s deep pocketswill allow him to go onto Michigan. But, while
I assume McCain will run against Romney the same way he did in New
Hampshire, look for Romney to make a strategic
adjustment. Tonight Romney was very gracious in his concession speech toward
McCain. Given the exit poll results that showed a lot of New Hampshire voters
didn’t vote for Romney because they didn’t like his negative ads, I’d imagine we’re
going to see a kinder and gentler Mitt from here on out.

 

Is there a frontrunner in this bunch? I don’t think so.
Despite some tiptoeing in his direction by some conservative bigwigs like Bill
Kristol, I still can’t see Huckabee getting the nomination. And I go back and
forth on whether McCain’s New Hampshire victory will amount to much: a month
ago
I didn’t think it would; a few days ago I did; and now, after that clunker
of speech, I’m back to thinking McCain's New Hampshire victory is a nice send-off for the guy and not a launching pad to the nomination. Which, by
process of elimination, leaves me with Romney, who just yesterday I was writing
off. Someone has to win this thing on the GOP side. At this point it might as
well be Mitt.

 

--Jason Zengerle

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