The Washington Post

Obama vs. Romney: Get used to it

Only a twerpazoid would claim that the Republican primary battle is over.

And I am that man.

Actually, I’ve been hearing it for days from people a lot smarter than me. They were saying it even before Tuesday’s New Hampshire Primary. It’s the nature of the game: Frontrunners don’t get knocked out late. You have to hit them early, in the retail-campaigning states, and weaken them at the ankles, slow them down, make them doubt themselves, create an atmosphere of non-inevitability. Then people start writing checks to insurgents. What you don’t do is lose the early states and then beat them in big states later on, when TV ads cost gobs of money. You don’t beat them on Super Tuesday. And you definitely don’t beat them when the forces of insurgency can’t decide which candidate should be the main challenger to the frontrunner.

Behold the tragedy of the conservative commons.

Different folks have different interests in seeing the primary battle prolonged. The media want a fight. All the candidates but one want a shot at the nomination, or at least a major role at the convention. The voters outside Iowa and New Hampshire ought to have a say in what happens next — it’s a simple matter of fairness. And South Carolina and then Florida will indeed have a voice in the nomination, though it’s hard to see how the results there could turn the race completely upside down at this point. Barring some bizarre turn of events, Mitt Romney will be — or, as I sit here, seems overwhelmingly likely to be — the Republican nominee.

Ron Paul’s supporters are hardly ready to concede the nomination to Romney, and they shouldn’t. Paul won a quarter of the New Hampshire vote, more than Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich combined. The Texas congressman is on his game, energized, and completely comfortable with his message. There’s nothing phony about Paul, which you can’t say about Romney. Goofy as his “We are all Austrians now” pitch may be, he’s stuck to his guns for 35 years in public life (see my recent profile).

Paul’s problem is that anyone can do opposition research on him simply by reading his books or transcripts of his interviews.

He believes this country began to get off track when Hamilton pushed for a national bank. Paging through my diary I see that this happened in 1791. At any moment he may weigh in on the mistakes made by the Athenians when they squared off with Sparta.

Jon Huntsman claimed a ticket out of New Hampshire, but a glance at the exit polls shows that he came in fifth among Republican voters. So, he’s there six months, and he comes in last place among the candidates actively campaigning. It is an incontrovertible rule that the Republican Party nomination is going to be decided by Republicans. Yes, Huntsman got a ticket – to Palookaville.

Rick Santorum may have made a strategic blunder by going to New Hampshire after Iowa. His brief bump in the New Hampshire polls after Iowa turned out to be a cyst [Warning: Metaphor Under Construction].

Newt Gingrich has never recovered from the Romney super-PAC attacks in Iowa. He apparently decided at the last minute in New Hampshire to attack Romney’s Bain record, thereby channeling the Occupy Wall Street movement. Another rule of politics is that when you attack a candidate you have to decide if you’re to his left or to his right. Rick Perry chimed in, calling Romney a vulture capitalist. These attacks looked like political ambition trumping party loyalty. Gingrich realized as much and backed off his criticisms on Wednesday. So one of the current questions is which Gingrich will get out of bed in the morning on any given day: Nice Newt or Nasty Newt?

None of this is a prediction. When I predict, I get it wrong, usually. Anything could still happen — in theory.

When’s the Buddy Roemer Surge??

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."


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