Mitt Romney’s run of luck during the Republican nominating race is beginning to defy belief. Begin with the fact that Rick Santorum turns out to have won the Iowa caucuses. Finding this out now is approximately 0.001 percent as valuable as having it announced the night of the caucuses. There was an old Fed Ex commercial depicting an aging pool cleaner suddenly discovering a 20-year-old acceptance letter from Harvard he had never received, and imagining the life he could have had. That man is Santorum. He has to wonder if the Iowa vote counters were gay.
Santorum has a clever new ad out portraying the Republican electorate being marched off a cliff behind moderate Romney. It well captures the conservative angst about the front-runner, the frustrated sense that the Establishment is leading the party to compromise its principles and thus to defeat. (I don’t believe the “thus” — if Romney does lose, it will be despite and not because of his moderate past — but conservatives do believe it.)
If Iowa had correctly tabulated its votes on caucus night, Santorum might be the candidate poised to rally the conservative base. Or Rick Perry could have been that candidate, had he mastered the ability to speak intelligibly in a debate setting. Instead the mantle of the non-Romney appears to be falling once again on the shoulders of Newt Gingrich.
Yes, he is back again. He is always back. Monday night’s debate showed just why conservatives can’t quit him, despite it all (“it all” including, most recently, his Nader-esque attacks on Romney’s business career.) At the debate, Gingrich stoked white conservatives’ sense of racial persecution by standing up for his right to use obvious racial code words. According to NBC, polls show that he is surging in South Carolina, especially since the debate:
On Monday before the debate, Romney led Gingrich in the poll by 15 points, 37 percent to 22 percent. But on Tuesday, that advantage narrowed to just five points, 31 percent to 26 percent.
Meanwhile, Rick Perry is dropping out and endorsing Newt. (This may disappoint hard-core Greek nationalists hoping President Perry would invade their hated foe Turkey.) More significant is that Gingrich is poised to collect endorsements from 100 tea party leaders.
The latest spasm of Newt-mentum will probably peak tonight. ABC News is airing a segment in which his ex-wide Marianne describes him as asking for, essentially, an open marriage. It’s hard to believe that anything at this point could lower our estimation of Gingrich as a husband, but this may renew attention on one of the many things keeping conservative evangelicals from embracing him. Possibly it could provide him another chance, in tonight’s debate, to make an endearing confession of sin (while of course denying having asked for permission to cheat.) Of course, even if he pulls that off, he will probably ruin it by filling it with hubris and calling for Romney’s execution, or endorsing communism, or possibly both.
Everything has gone Romney’s way. A slew of credible opponents all declined to run, or dropped out prematurely (poor, poor Tim Pawlenty.) He was mistakenly credited with winning the Iowa caucuses. The opponents who have challenged him all self-destructed, and when persistent unease with Romney resurrected them, they self-destructed again.