Who can stop Mitt Romney?
On the eve of the New Hampshire primaries, the emergence of Rick Santorum as the leading conservative (? -- see below) challenger to moderate Republican Mitt Romney changes the complexion of the 2012 campaign. As the candidate most closely aligned with the Christian Right, Santorum will turn the spotlight on the uneasy issue of religion and politics once again. Are Americans ready for a Mormon president? That is exactly the kind of thing that could widen divisions within the Republican Party, just when they need so desperately to find something they can all rally behind to stop Barack Obama from "transforming" this nation.
Santorum has the advantage of a pleasant, sincere nature, whereas Romney remains uptight. Santorum speaks very well off the cuff, and thus far is not known for committing verbal gaffes. But the fact that he was a lower-tier relative unknown until recently means that he has a very thin pocketbook with which to wage a successful primary campaign. He will need endorsements from at least one or two other candidates (Perry? Cain?) in the near future, if he is to raise the necessary funds.
Can Newt Gingrich rebound? First it was Michele Bachmann, then Rick Perry, then Herman Cain, and then Newt. In each case a conservative candidate emerged to excite The Base, and then he (or she) quickly got shot down, due to self-inflicted flubs and/or negative attack ads by rivals. (Or by one of those new anonymous "Super PACs" tacitly operating on behalf of a candidate.) Newt's well-known personality shortcomings were on display on the night of the Iowa caucuses, as he barely contained his rage at Ron Paul and Mitt Romney for going negative and/or (he says) twisting the truth. I think he still has plenty of opportunity to prove himself as the most worthy and electable candidate, but his margin for error is shrinking rapidly.
Romney is widely expected to win New Hampshire, and the only question is by how big of a margin. Perry has bypassed the Granite state, and putting all his marbles in South Carolina. It's probably just a show, to use up the accumulated campaign donations.
Santorum's upset in Iowa
To paraphrase Thomas Frank's Book (What's the Matter With Kansas), I am tempted to ask "What's the matter with Iowa?" Obviously, there is a strong social conservative component in the Hawkeye State, but I tend to think Rick Santorum's surge was more of a reflection of his tireless campaign efforts there, as well as the yearning among Republicans for "someone else." (See below.)* Here are the totals, courtesy of CNN.com.
For some reason, each of the top five candidates picked up one or two delegates since the preliminary caucus vote totals were announced last week.
Is Santorum conservative?
Definitions of words change over the years, so that question is in a sense rhetorical. The following article reinforces my impression that the Pennsylvanian is just like "Dubya" in many ways. Michael Tanner writes on "Santorum's Big-Government Conservatism" at cato.org; hat tip to Doug Mataconis.
* Are there more choices?
According to a Pew Research Center poll, 44 percent of likely Republican voters said the field of candidates is fair or poor, while 51 percent of them said the candidates are excellent or good, See politico.com.