Tuesday’s results in Iowa ratified the Obama campaign’s assumption that Mitt Romney will be the eventual nominee. The only question now, as it has been for some time, is how long it will take him to wrap it up.
A perusal of the commentary suggests that many still don’t share this view. Many note that Romney got fewer votes in Iowa than he did four years ago; that conservatives won’t warm to him; and that expectations will trap him in New Hampshire where, they argue, he has nowhere to go but down.
While I don’t dispute the specifics of their argument, I’m not buying their conclusion. First, Romney has opponents with real limitations and fatal flaws.
Ron Paul is a 10 to 15 percent candidate who can stay as long as he likes, due to proportional delegate distribution, but can never win. Rick Santorum has the makings of a good message— a kind of Christian populism— but he lacks gravitas and has a 16-year voting record full of fodder. He can be “Gingriched.” For Newt, New Hampshire looks more “die” than “do.” He now seems more interested in destroying Romney than in winning. Huntsman’s final stand will be in the Granite State, but my sense he will remain the forgotten man in the only state where he tried to be remembered. Rick Perry vows to make a stand in South Carolina, but it’s too late.
So I see Romney continuing to make his methodical march. He could indeed stumble a bit in New Hampshire; i.e., see his margin erode, thus raising questions about his strength. That could then set up a frenzied South Carolina primary, extending the life of one or more second-tier candidates. But Romney will grind inexorably to victory. He has the most money and the best campaign. And he is the best candidate; confident and optimistic. Really, when Gingrich, Romney, Santorum, Paul, Perry and Huntsman stand on stage together, does anyone besides Romney look and act like a president?
The Obama people see all this. Their strategic question, as I mentioned yesterday, is how long to wait before declaring war on Romney. I will have some thoughts on that later today.