T uesday’s victory for Mitt Romney is kind of a big deal.
At 47%, Romney exceeded the share of the vote he received in his New Hampshire backyard. Coming in a distant second with 32% was Newt Gingrich. Ceding the Sunshine State were Rick Santorum with 13% and Ron Paul at 7%.
Winning Florida is a big deal for Romney because it helps him shake the image that he can’t win a state unless it’s near his home or is Mormon-dominated. Belatedly losing Iowa hurt Romney going into South Carolina where he himself lost by over ten points. That seems long ago.
Considering he squandered the momentum of his South Carolina win, Gingrich’s speech Tuesday night more closely resembled a victory oratory than a candidate who had just been trounced by double digits. Promising to repeal Obamacare, Sarbanes-Oxley, and Dodd-Frank on his first day in office, his speech makes one wonder whether Newt actually saw the results. And with a background littered with signs saying “46 States” left to contest, Gingrich said, “It is now clear that this will be a two-person race between the conservative leader, Newt Gingrich, and the Massachusetts moderate.”
The grandiosity was typically Gingrichian, and 32% in a four-person race is decent but the two candidates behind him basically withdrew from Florida. Over at The American Spectator, Jim Antle sums up the challenge ahead for Newt:
“The next major contests are in Nevada, Arizona, and Michigan. All of those states would have favored Mitt Romney even without a large Florida bounce. Some of them are caucuses, where Gingrich’s organizational deficiencies will be magnified.
“Newt could go the entire month of Feburary without winning a primary or caucus. That would bring him to Super Tuesday, when he will have to compete with Romney’s finances and get-out-the-vote operation in multiple states at once. Gingrich has in effect admitted that he couldn’t keep up with Romney’s money or ground game in just one state, Florida.
“Gingrich will still be favored in three Southern states on Super Tuesday. But his path to the nomination has become precarious and righting the ship will require more discipline than Newt has shown so far.”
Not only that, but how precarious will it be if Ron Paul comes away with the second-most delegates between now and Super Tuesday?
Conservatives trying to rally around Gingrich are comforting themselves today by pointing to the fact that Gingrich and Santorum’s combined total equaled approximately 45% and if only one of them dropped out then they could all rally around a single non-Romney candidate. Except both candidates have little organization and are almost out of money.
This signals that there is still a lot of reluctance to support Romney. But this is largely a mess of conservatives’ own making. Sensing that Romney is a moderate-to-liberal Republican, the conservative base is trying to foist a right-wing alternative to thwart him. But the choices they are fighting over could hardly be worse.
Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum doom the party to failure because they are largely fighting over who best represents the agenda of the recent past without actually bringing up George W. Bush.
None of them are proposing any real cuts. None of them are planning to dismantle anything except what Obama has already introduced and all represent, in different ways, the party’s belief in an activist central government. It will be no surprise if the Republicans actually defeat Obama this November that they will govern very similarly to the last Republican president.
In a twist of irony, Ron Paul, the oldest candidate in the field, actually represents the future of the party. To an up and coming electorate that is more concerned with personal liberty than a social safety net premised on a Ponzi scheme, the future is not with Romney, Gingrich, or Santorum.
The younger class that is paying for the entitlements, bailing out the mortgages, and serving in the wars of the retiring generation – while underemployed – has much to find disreputable in the status quo. Unfortunately for Paul the future isn’t in this election.
And fortunately for Romney.