Talking with activists and Republican party leaders around the country this week, it appears everybody is waiting on Mitt Romney. At least, all the questions I’m asked appear to assume his nomination.
Many speak with relief that the nominee won’t be Newt Gingrich, many are sympathetic to Ron Paul, and more often than I would have guessed, many regret that Jon Huntsman never got in position to make them an offer they could seriously consider. These activists don’t necessarily calculate or know whether Romney will win South Carolina, but they seemed to have ruled out anyone else as the ultimate victor.
When I challenge them with the idea that Gingrich or Rick Santorum could keep going, they do not assume I’m suggesting either might win the nomination. Although Gingrich is the more culpable, many consider both to be troublemakers. Although Santorum probably has a future: No one thinks he is crazy.
With the way the primaries are unfolding, Romney’s victory would bring more of a sense of relief than excitement. Many party members are still waiting to hear what Romney is really all about. They don’t feel like they know him, but few are disheartened at his likely nomination victory, and very few are hostile.
Nevertheless, he still has a lot of self-introduction to do. It shouldn’t start after South Carolina. He should use the remaining days of the primary to show that he can be tough. Part of what his introduction should include is proof that he can take a punch and deliver a punch. There is no better place than South Carolina to prove he can both take the heat and dish it out.