The Spoils of War: With his GOP nomination all but certain, Mitt Romney now has to win over his opponents’ supporters
This year’s Republican primaries look increasingly less like a battle and more like a mopping-up action after the fight. The dominant fact of the 2012 GOP contest is the complete absence of plausible alternatives to Mitt Romney. When those plausible alternatives either failed to show up (Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie—though Christie’s manner is probably too thuggish to achieve genuine plausibility) or showed up and turned instantly implausible (Rick Perry), the contest was over even before it began. Ron Paul? Jon Huntsman? Rick Santorum? Newt? Compared to the rest of the field, Romney looks like a giant—which is why the turnout in tonight’s primary and last week’s caucuses was altogether underwhelming.
Jon Huntsman’s attempt to anoint himself the Comeback Kid of this year’s New Hampshire primary took place in a small, jam-packed restaurant on Elm Street, Manchester’s main drag. It was a sub-Clintonian performance, however. Huntsman’s talk was too short and failed to define him sufficiently to the dwindling band of Republican moderates that constitutes his potential base. He did pledge to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and to impose term limits on Congress—always a big applause line among Huntsman backers, who seem more enraged by the right-wing dunces who control the House than they by Barack Obama.
Indeed, much of what Huntsman said could have been said by Obama himself. The appeal to end the partisan divisiveness, the recounting of the successes in the war on al-Qaeda, the refocusing of our foreign policy away from the Mideast to East Asia—these are all themes that Obama has campaigned on or policies that he’s implemented or (with our new defense budget) implementing; Huntsman comes off as nothing so much as an Obama Republican, which is why he has nowhere to go but down after tonight. Paul probably reached his apogee tonight as well. A libertarian, almost all-white state that allows independents to vote in the party primaries and has same-day registration to boot is a state custom-tailored to Paul’s specifications. He probably won’t see its like again.