Politics & Policy

What New Hampshire Means

Mitt Romney celebrates with supporters at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H., Jan. 10, 2012.
Our experts weigh in on the result, and the road ahead.

Hunter Baker

Mitt Romney scored an expected win, but benefited greatly from being able to give his victory speech early in the evening when a large audience was watching. He sounded well-practiced, interesting, and sharp. My guess is that many people saw him give the speech and felt they would be satisfied to see him take on the president.

#ad#Ron Paul doesn’t get the attention his campaign may merit because it is so unlikely that he will gain the nomination, and because he doesn’t have a big political future ahead of him. Too few are thinking about what his success means for the libertarian movement. Ron Paul’s determined efforts appear to be building libertarianism into a stronger segment of the Republican coalition. But, at the same time, there were moments in his speech — when he talked about the Fed, for example — when it seemed he was just letting the freak flag fly. The libertarian movement will find its Barack Obama (a charismatic ideologue to carry the message), just as the socialists found theirs. Ron Paul 2.0 or 3.0 might make a mark in America’s future. 

Jon Huntsman did what he had to do to stay alive, with a solid third-place finish. Too few conservatives realize that his record is more conservative than his rhetoric has been. But his speech was really lacking; one would think that a campaign would be ready for its one spotlight moment. Huntsman’s wasn’t.

Santorum and Gingrich are splitting the votes of those nostalgic for the glory of 1994. Of the two, Santorum has more potential going forward. His showing was sufficient to demonstrate that he can maintain some of the momentum he picked up in Iowa. If it is possible for the conservative vote to coalesce against Romney, he is looking more and more like the one most likely to do it. But people are making their peace with Mitt Romney. The anti-Mitt camp is very rapidly running out of time, if not money.

Rick Perry was my governor when I lived in Texas. It is like a Texas A&M Aggie to stay in the race and not give up in the face of adversity. It makes sense on paper to think that he could make a stand in South Carolina, but Gingrich and Santorum are eating up his vote, and being irrelevant to New Hampshire hasn’t helped him, even if it was part of the plan.

— Hunter Baker is the author of The End of Secularism and associate professor of political science at Union University.

Mona Charen

For the past year, the question has been whether Mitt Romney would be acceptable to the Republican party. We pined for other candidates, of ever diminishing plausibility, to enter the race. We “speed dated” any number of non-Romneys among the declared candidates, only to find each unsatisfactory in turn.

Some pundits continue to dream of a great conservative hope who will enter the race and save us from Romney — perhaps even at a brokered convention.

But the voters have now had two opportunities to speak. Two thirds of voters in New Hampshire said they were satisfied with the field. Romney has won a solid victory there. He succeeded with Tea Party supporters and self-described conservatives.

And now Newt Gingrich has offered Romney a gift. By attacking him from the left as a heartless tycoon, he has given Romney the chance to campaign as the defender of capitalism and free markets. This will burnish Romney’s conservative credentials and serve him well in South Carolina and elsewhere.

While it’s too early to say the race is sewn up, it is looking very good for Mitt Romney.

 Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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JIM GERAGHTY

It’s not over — but it’s effectively over.

For Mitt Romney to be derailed, somebody has to beat him somewhere. He’s already won Iowa (by the hair of his chinny-chin-chin), and he’s won New Hampshire. He currently leads in South Carolina, although that could change in the next two weeks if anti-Romney conservatives unite behind another candidate. Romney leads in Florida by 12 percentage points in the latest poll. After that, it’s the Nevada caucuses, which Romney won by a wide margin in 2008. And after that, it’s the Maine caucuses, which Romney won by a wide margin in 2008. It’s a long stretch before you can find a state where you would conclude, “Yeah, that one’s going to be tough for Romney.” Those states are relatively few and far between.

#ad#A Tuesday-night release from the Rick Perry campaign declared, “Tonight’s results in New Hampshire show that the race for a ‘conservative alternative’ to Mitt Romney remains wide open.” Yes, and that’s bad news for the Perry campaign; while the Granite State was never going to be naturally fertile territory for Perry, he only hurt his cause in the last week with hyperbolic fuming about “vulture capitalism.” The only real non-Mitt option remaining is Rick Santorum, and he will probably see his campaign apparatus grow as conservatives flock to him. Money will continue to flow into the Santorum coffers, but the real question is: Will it be enough to overcome the momentum of a Romney campaign that seems to be hitting its stride?

Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot for NRO.

Hugh Hewitt

Romney’s big win in New Hampshire sets up the next few battles for the former Massachusetts governor nicely, but it is far from over. Rick Santorum has an opportunity to consolidate the social conservatives and free-marketers who survey the field and realize that, despite his less-than-great showing in New Hampshire, the former Pennsylvania senator is the last man standing between Romney and the nomination.

Whatever chance at a comeback Speaker Gingrich and Governor Perry had went up on the pyre they lit with their attacks, on Bain specifically and free-market venture capital generally. The recognition that one cannot defend capitalism while attacking capital is spreading. Blaming Bain for layoffs is like blaming the lifeboats for being late to the Titanic. No matter how you judge their performances, we are a whole lot better for having venture capitalists at hand, even when they don’t bat anywhere near 1.000. Most will inevitably agree that Romney’s tenure at Bain was wildly successful, as was his leadership of the Olympics. Critics hate the Massachusetts health-insurance mandate — and that’s a legitimate argument that may well run through many weeks — but only Santorum now has the standing to represent a genuine alternative. A state mandate to purchase health insurance is much less an assault on free enterprise than, well, an assault on free enterprise. Romney’s tax-cutting record stands up very well, and he and Santorum can have a great debate on how the tax code should look.

Senator Santorum was my first guest Tuesday night, and he sounds like a man who knows he is very much in the hunt. Again and again his answers were serious and to the point. (You can find the transcript at HughHewitt.com.) I think he ought to be giving more thought to the “team” than he appears willing to do, but his explanation as to why he wouldn’t want to go down the Reagan path of 1976, when the Gipper promised to name Richard Schweiker (at the time a “liberal Republican” senator from Pennsylvania) as his running mate in the interest of ideological balance, made a lot of sense. His assurance that Marco Rubio wouldn’t be off any list because of the old “rule” that a ticket cannot have two senators was good news to the conservative base in love with the Florida senator’s fire and positions.

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I also interviewed John McCain, and the former nominee’s defense of Romney was pitch-perfect. (That transcript is also posted.) One thing McCain stressed is how an already-strong Romney campaign is being benefited by the potent political force that is New Jersey governor Chris Christie. The combo of the old maverick and the new cyclone will play very well in the next few states.

The opportunity for Romney to take on the “Bain factor” right now is also an enormous break, akin to President Obama getting to deal with Jeremiah Wright early in the 2008 cycle. He made subsequent attacks on the Obama-Wright relationship suspect in the eyes of voters, or at least the mainstream media. Immunization is a real deal. Politico’s John Harris said on air today that Obama had “lanced the boil” of the Wright story, but went on to argue that the Bain story is a much higher hurdle for Romney because the former Massachusetts governor’s success at Bain is part of his appeal. True enough, and to which one could also add: It helped Obama that the MSM wasn’t interested in Wright in the way they will be in Bain.

#ad#There is a lot for Romney to say about Bain, much of it very good and some of it hard to understand if you were one of the workers laid off or just sympathetic to folks caught in downsizings. I wrote about the Bain problem in my 2007 book on Romney. Short version: There will be a long parade of axe-carrying ex-employees of companies Bain did not save or which it downsized, and they will help the Democrats “blame the lifeboats and not the Titanic.”

That is okay if Romney takes the challenge head-on and defends markets and investors, just as it is okay if Rick Santorum takes on the critics of his strong defense of traditional marriage and the centrality of children to the country’s future. The Chicago gang is to the attacks of Gingrich/Perry/Paul as Justin Verlander’s fastball is to pony-league pitching. There is no sense in complaining. Lots of sense in getting prepared. Watch the handling of the “firing” line develop this week. If Romney’s on his game, he will hang a lantern on his problem and explain again and again why it is a good thing to be able to fire insurance companies and a bad thing when it’s impossible to fire the government. He should tell everyone he is working to fire Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi. “Firing” should become Romney shorthand for a turnaround of all things Obama.

The GOP is looking for a tough candidate who will make tough choices in tough times. Both Romney and Santorum have the chance to make the case in South Carolina and Florida that they can unite the party’s three branches — its national-security wing; its proponents of high growth, low taxes, and minimal regulation; and its people of faith for whom values matter. After Iowa and New Hampshire and the events of January, they seem to be the last two with a chance of doing so.

So who does Jim DeMint endorse?

— Hugh Hewitt is host of The Hugh Hewitt Show and author of the 2007 book A Mormon in the White House? 10 Things Every American Should Know about Mitt Romney.

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KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ

Mitt Romney has to be a little grateful to New Gingrich: His shrill, unfair attacks on Bain not only made it easy for Romney to frame the New Hampshire primary as a referendum on free enterprise, but put him on track to present it as the heart of a general-election vision. John Boehner has pushed a jobs message and tried to work with the president, who seems to have little interest in being a fair broker, preferring instead to demagogue. What Romney began to do Tuesday night is tell the story, with a little passion, of how this Massachusetts millionaire can turn things around, and can be the one who is uniquely equipped to do so. He started to tell the story of a man who can let the House do what voters wanted them to do when they put them in the majority over a year ago. As Romney noted in his speech, people are disappointed; and they may just be ready to fire the guy who has failed them.

The primary season is far from over — I agree with Hugh that, at this point, this appears be a contest between Romney and Santorum. (Perhaps we have a ticket there?) But if Romney becomes the nominee, you saw the first scribbles of his convention speech on Tuesday night.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.

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Grover Norquist

Mitt Romney now has three decisions to make: One, who is his vice-presidential candidate? Two, who will be his chief of staff? Three, how will he convince Ron Paul to speak from the main stage at the GOP national convention?

The vice presidency? Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio would help in Ohio and as VP would strengthen the White House/congressional coordination missing in 2000–08. Another option: New Mexico governor Susana Martinez: Hispanic. Woman. New Mexico. Or, to begin to undo the damage of (no doubt much misunderstood) speeches by GOP congressmen from monochromatic districts, he might consider Puerto Rico governor Luis Fortuna: There are 4 million Puerto Rican voters living in the lower 48 states, and about 800,000 in Florida.  Fortuna is a Reagan Republican (and, as are all citizens of PR, an American citizen). And of course there is Florida senator Marco Rubio: Cuban American. Floridian. Tea Party leader. Reaganite speaker. Then again, he could always pick former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, to run up the numbers in the Mormon community and to ensure the electoral college votes from Utah.

The chief of staff? Gov. Haley Barbour, the one Republican who would convince everyone that was not part of Team Romney five years ago that they will have a voice and place in the next administration. Obama brought Hillary Clinton into his Cabinet. Haley Barbour as chief of staff would bring every major GOP player over the past 30 years into Romney World and would ensure they feel listened to and part of the team.

There is only one endorsement that Mitt Romney needs between now and November 2012. The only endorsement that would bring votes, support, and party unity: Rep. Ron Paul’s. It is wasteful to leave the energy, votes, and enthusiasm outside; suicidal to drive it into a a third-party movement.

Grover Norquist is the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform and a signer of the Right on Crime Statement of Principles. 

Henry Olsen

Mitt Romney’s solid victory tonight almost cements him as the nominee. It’s not just that he won New Hampshire by nearly 15 points, it’s that he resoundingly carried Republicans by a thumping 49–16 margin over Ron Paul. He carried all age groups except the 18–29 crowd, and he won the crucial GOP voting bloc of somewhat conservative voters, by 48–20 over Ron Paul. Rick Santorum, meanwhile, did not break double digits among any ideological group except very conservative voters, and he even lost among those voters to Romney by 33–26. Romney won’t do this well in South Carolina — evangelicals were only 22 percent of the vote in New Hampshire and Romney got only 30 percent among them. But he doesn’t need to — if he can split South Carolina moderates with Ron Paul and win somewhat conservatives with over 40 percent of the vote, he’ll win the Palmetto State by a clear margin and clinch the nomination in Florida.

Jon Huntsman? He carried only four groups — those who consider themselves Democrats, those who strongly oppose the Tea Party, those who are satisfied with Obama, and those who are dissatisfied with the GOP candidates. ’Nuff said.

— Henry Olsen is director of the American Enterprise Institute’s National Research Initiative.

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JOHN J. PITNEY

Newt Gingrich has had many role models. An early inspiration was Hari Seldon, the fictional psycho-historian of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. On the campaign trail, he has likened himself to Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Winston Churchill. But with his disappointing performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, he has to pick someone else.

Alas, he has recently been morphing into Michael Moore. His attacks on Romney’s record at Bain seem to have had little effect within the party. That stands to reason, since Republicans don’t like Michael Moore.

#ad#Some reports suggest that Gingrich has developed a deep grudge against Romney, blaming his decline in the polls on attack ads by a pro-Romney super-PAC. In that sense, he’s like Max Cady, the Robert De Niro character who stalked Nick Nolte in the 1991 version of Cape Fear. That’s not good, either. Spoiler alert: Things didn’t work out well for Max Cady.

Perhaps a better role model is . . . Newt Gingrich. More exactly, the Newt Gingrich we saw early in the campaign. That Newt was articulate and substantive, focusing more on defeating President Obama than bringing down the other Republicans. If he reclaims that role, he still won’t win, but at least he can exit the campaign on a high note.

— John J. Pitney is Roy P. Crocker professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College.

Cal Thomas

He isn’t the nominee yet, but he’s well on the way. After eking out a win in Iowa, Romney won New Hampshire with a 14 percentage point lead over second-place finisher Ron Paul. Jon Huntsman was third and Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich tied for fourth.

South Carolina is next, where things could be closer. Then, it’s Florida. Gingrich is on the air in South Carolina attacking Romney for being insufficiently pro-life while he was governor of Massachusetts. While that may have strong appeal to conservative Christians in the state, it may not be enough to stop what Romney hopes most Republican voters will see as his inevitability. In Florida, the latest Quinnipiac survey puts Romney ahead by 36–24 percent over Gingrich and the others far behind.

This contest should be over soon because the other candidates are running out of steam and money. But Mitt Romney still hasn’t closed the deal with most Republicans. A large majority voted for others in Iowa. A somewhat smaller majority — but still a majority — voted for other candidates in New Hampshire.

Romney’s victory in New Hampshire puts him a big step closer to the nomination. A new Gallup poll shows President Obama’s approval at 42 percent, a new low.

It’s still a long way to the White House for Mitt Romney, especially given the fact that President Obama is already there. 

— Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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